Industry Voices: The role of supervisors in excavation and scaffolding

Journal of Commerce | OH&S | by WORKSAFEBC | 

There’s little doubt that maintaining safe and effective worksites is the responsibility of everyone — workers and employers alike — but setting the safety standards onsite, raising awareness, sharing knowledge and providing training are often the role of supervisors.

When it comes to high-risk related tasks like excavation and scaffolding, supervisors are key to ensuring that everyone onsite is aware of their health and safety responsibilities while on the job.

Supervisor’s responsibilities

As a supervisor, you are the person who instructs, directs and controls workers in the performance of their duties.

A supervisor can be any worker, management or staff, who meets this definition, whether or not they carry the supervisor title. If an individual in the workplace has a supervisor’s responsibilities, that person is responsible for worker health and safety.

While there are policies and procedures specific to excavation and scaffolding, there are supervisor responsibilities required regardless of the job or industry that all supervisors need to be aware of.

These include:

  • Ensuring the health and safety of workers under their direct supervision.
  • Knowing the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation that apply to that job.
  • Ensuring workers comply with the regulation and are aware of all known hazards onsite.
  • Consulting and co-operating with the joint health and safety committee (or worker health and safety representative).
  • Making sure all workers under your supervision have the appropriate personal protective equipment for the job and that it’s being used properly and is regularly inspected and maintained.
  • Co-operating with WorkSafeBC and its officers.

Excavation safety and supervision

One of the most important aspects of any excavation project is to ensure the safety of the workers entering the excavation site.

Policies and procedures are in place to make sure this happens and supervisors and employers are required to establish and enforce these policies for the safety of everyone onsite.

If you’re a supervisor on an excavation project, you’ll want to be aware of the following safety issues and plan accordingly:

  • What type of ground disturbance is taking place, i.e., bulk excavation, utility location installation or repair, or land development.
  • How you’ll determine what the underground services or utilities are, i.e., BC One Call, contacting the utility owners directly or locating the electronic utility.
  • Which method will be used for ground disturbance, hand digging, excavator, hydro vac, etc.
  • Ensure that the excavated area is safe for workers to enter with a soils report issued by a qualified registered professional or a P. eng is onsite prior to work beginning and amended as changes occur.
  • Knowing how often ground disturbance inspections are made (if the area is to remain open for more than a day via daily inspections and items checked).
  • Having safe work procedures and practices in place for ground disturbance and excavation safety.

Scaffolding safety and supervision

Scaffolds are common on many worksites and are used for a variety of tasks. They can also present a number of risks to workers such as overhead powerlines, or the scaffold collapsing or overturning.

As a supervisor, to help ensure your workers’ safety, you should be aware of the following safety procedures and policies:

  • Supervisors must ensure that scaffolds used by their workers are in safe condition.
  • All scaffolds must be inspected before use by those who will use them — regardless of who put them up.
  • A scaffold must be put up, altered and dismantled by or under the direct supervision of qualified workers.
  • The scaffold must be inspected daily before use and after any modifications.
  • A damaged or weakened scaffold cannot be used until it has been effectively repaired.
  • The vertical supports of scaffolds must be placed on a firm base or sill, and must be capable of withstanding the weight of the scaffold and anything placed on it.

We’re here to help

We have a variety of resources and information available about excavation, scaffolding, and supervisor responsibilities including safety checklists, toolbox topics, related articles, and more. Visit to learn more.

This Industry Voices column was submitted by WorkSafeBC and provides advice for supervisors dealing with excavation and scaffolding duties. Send comments or questions to