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January 7, 2022

Digging Issues to Know on Utah Contracting Job Sites

For contractors who regularly take on jobs where they'll be breaking new ground for a variety of reasons, avoiding digging issues is an important consideration. From soil concerns to groundwater and other possible problems, there are a few major areas to keep an eye on if you're regularly performing digging of any kind on your job sites.

At Contractors School, we're here to provide numerous resources to contractors and soon-to-be contractors, from contractor license classes and other forms of education to several tools for existing contractors and their businesses. We regularly offer recommendations on basic themes like avoiding digging concerns while on a job site, plus many related ones. What are some important considerations for any contractor in such a setting?

Soil Quality

One of the single most important factors to consider when taking part in any project that involves digging is soil quality. The soil composition can be a major determinant in terms of whether or not it will present any problems when you're out on your job site. For instance, highly organic soils, which are often found near bodies of water like rivers and streams, might make it difficult to excavate because they tend to keep their moisture content for much longer periods than other types of soils. Likewise, organic soils are very rich in nutrients and can be highly combustible if they're not handled properly.

There are a few specific components you'll want to consider when it comes to soil quality, including:

  • Drainage: Is the soil naturally well-drained, or does it tend to retain moisture? This may help determine whether or not you can install drainage systems like French drains, for example.
  • Moisture level: How moist is the soil? This may influence your decision to call in a moisture remediation specialist if needed.
  • Soil compaction: Is the soil soft and fluffy, or is it compacted? The latter would require some type of grouting to help improve its overall consistency.
  • Water table: The distance to the nearest underground water table is another important consideration that can influence how difficult it will be for you or your team to start digging without running into issues along the way.
  • Bearing capacity: Finally, the bearing capacity of the soil is also a major factor. This refers to how much load it can bear without caving in or becoming uneven, which can lead to an accident if you're not careful.

All these factors must be evaluated thoroughly when considering whether soil can support the weight of the machinery you'll be using to dig, as well as any potential buildings or structures that might need to be erected on-site.

In many cases, it will be necessary to hire a professional to test the soils. Many times, a geotechnical engineer is the right person for the job. The testing process will involve performing a variety of tests on samples taken from different parts of your land.

Possible Soil Contamination

Another important factor to evaluate regarding the soil in any digging area is any possible contamination. You'll want to be aware of whether or not the soil has previously been used for storing hazardous materials, garbage, sewage, or other substances that could pose a threat if not cleaned thoroughly before you start digging.

This factor will often require some type of soil testing in order for you to make an informed decision about whether or not to dig safely. You'll want to take into account whether or not the contaminated soil is likely to transfer contaminants into any groundwater that might be on-site. If you've encountered this type of soil on a regular basis, you're better off hiring a professional who knows how best to clean and remove the contaminant from your land.

Buried Utility Lines

When digging into any property area, you also have to be aware of any buried utility lines. These could be gas, electric, sewage, water, and a variety of other resources you don't want to disturb in any way as you go about performing your work.

In most cases, the landowner will have information about whether or not any utilities are on-site and where they're located. In some cases, the utility company in charge of that line will have records which you can use to pinpoint their location. However, if this information isn't available, it's important to contact your local utility office or call 811 before digging begins on any property. This helps ensure you'll avoid accidentally severing any lines and putting yourself at risk for injury or worse.

Historical Sites

In rare cases, you may discover during a digging project that you have uncovered a historical site. This is a more unusual occurrence, but it can happen. In order to make sure you don't cause any unnecessary damage during the course of your work, be sure to contact the appropriate authorities if you encounter anything that seems culturally significant as you're digging on-site.

Other Hazards

Finally, a few words on some other hazards to keep an eye out for during any digging project:

  • Tree roots: Cutting through tree roots as you dig can cause damage to your equipment and reduce your efficiency as a contractor. Depending on how important this factor is for the job, it may be necessary to hire specialized machinery or dig around trees rather than through them.
  • Slope: Slopes that are too steep can pose their own set of problems. This can make it difficult to retain soil, which can damage other structures on-site if the slope becomes too steep. Make sure your slopes are appropriate for the job at hand and that you employ safe practices when performing work in an area with a steep incline.
  • Water: Determined by the location of your job site, water tables may pose obstacles. Water that is too close to the surface can result in mudslides or cause other problems during digging projects.

For more on areas to check before or during any digging project for your contracting business, or to learn about any of our contractor resources in Utah, speak to the staff at Contractors School today.

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