OSH Answers Fact Sheets

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Landscaping - Shovelling and Digging

What should you do before shovelling or digging?

  • Contact utility companies for location of cables, wires, and pipes before digging. In many areas it is illegal to dig unless you have called to have these utilities located.
  • Wear the proper protective clothing (e.g., safety footwear, gloves, long pants, etc.) that is suitable for the task and the work environment.
  • Choose the proper tool for the task and make sure it is in good condition.
  • Remember that wet soil is heavy - adjust the amount of soil you put on your shovel accordingly.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to stay balanced and not slip.
  • Don't twist your body - turn your front foot in the direction you want to deposit the shovel's load.
  • Keep a loaded shovel close to your body to keep you balanced.

There are many tips in other Landscaping OSH Answers documents.

What should I know about cave-ins?

One cubic foot of soil can weigh over 45 kg (100 pounds) - a small amount of soil falling into an unprotected trench can injure or kill you. Workers have been killed after being buried up to their waist from the pressure exerted on their body.

Determine if you have to take precautions against the possibility of a cave-in. Precautions could include:

  • sloping the bank to prevent a cave-in
  • shoring the banks with plywood, timber, or other materials to support the sides of a trench
  • installing shields or trench boxes
  • benching or making steps in the sides of the excavation

The protective measures that you have to take will depend on various factors like the size and depth of the excavation, and

  • the kind of soil (for example, clay can break off in large chunks without warning)
  • if the soil has been recently excavated (soil that is "loose" may cave in more readily)
  • the water content of the soil
  • weather conditions (e.g., rainy, freezing temperatures)

The precautions you take will be different if you will be working in the hole rather than standing on firm, stable ground at the top of the hole (e.g., post hole, hole for planting a shrub).

The OSH Answers document Shovelling contains ergonomic information (e.g., weight limit, handle length, work pace).

Document last updated on January 31, 2008
Document confirmed current on March 1, 2016


Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.