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Planning and building

Guidance for archaeological work

Health and safety

Health and Safety regulations and requirements cannot be ignored no matter how imperative the need to record archaeological information; hence health and safety will take priority over archaeological matters.

All archaeologists (and other relevant roles) undertaking fieldwork must:

  • do so under a defined health and safety policy
  • observe safe working practices
  • agree and understand the Health and Safety arrangements before work commences

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Archaeological risk assessments

Risk assessments must be produced in line with legislative requirements, such as:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002
  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 2002

Best practice must be followed, as set out in the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME) Health and Safety Manual (formerly 'Standing Conference on Archaeological Unit Managers', SCAUM).

The Risk Assessment will identify what PPE (hard hats, glasses/goggles, steel toe cap and instep boots, gloves, high-viz clothing) is required.

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Archaeological insurance

The archaeological contractor must be able to provide written proof that the necessary levels of insurance cover are in place.

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Health and safety during archaeological works

The archaeological contractor must detail measures taken to ensure the safe conduct of excavations, and must consult with the client's structural engineers concerning working in close proximity to the foundations of the surrounding buildings.

Excavation trenches should:

  • be protected from vehicles and guarded off for pedestrians
  • not have steep sides or must be shored/stepped if deeper than 1.2 meters
  • have good access and egress

The archaeologists must not work near overhead power lines.

Underground services can be easily damaged during excavation work. If proper precautions are not taken, workers may encounter risks such as:

  • heat, flame and molten metal from electric cables
  • escaping gas from gas pipes
  • flooding of the excavation when a water pipe is damaged
  • interruption of services

Excavation work in the public highway, kerbside or pavement can only be undertaken by those with a Street Works certificate of competence.

Before the excavation takes place the person supervising the digging must have been given service plans and be trained in how to read them.

All persons involved in the excavation must know about safe digging practice and emergency procedures.

A locator must be used to trace the line of any pipe or cable, to confirm that there are no pipes or cables in the way. The ground will be marked accordingly. There must be an emergency plan to deal with damage to cables and pipes.

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Also see


City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA