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Compaction Safety Best Practices

There are many components to successful soil compaction on a jobsite. Starting with correctly identifying the type of soil and testing its readiness to be compacted, deciding which type of equipment to use for various applications, and more. We’ll also cover compaction safety best practices in our series of articles on this complex topic.


Compaction Safety Best Practices

Every construction site has state and federal safety codes as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, documented standards, and safety practices. But safety regulations and standards for compaction jobs are unique and perhaps unfamiliar unless you use compaction equipment often.  
Developed specifically for compaction operations, these safety best practices may protect you, your crew, your company, and your jobsite from lawsuits, injuries, and possibly deaths. It’s a good idea to share these guidelines with your crew as a training tool.

Basic Safety Procedures

Basic personal protection equipment (PPE) consisting of sturdy work gloves, eye protection, ear protection, OSHA-approved hard hats, work clothes, and construction or safety boots should be worn by everyone on a compaction job, but especially the compaction machine operators. White Cap carries a complete selection of PPE in varying sizes for every kind of application and industry.

When using walk-behind compaction equipment, additional toe protection should be worn, depending on applicable regulations. 

Everyone operating compaction equipment should read all operating and safety instructions for each piece of equipment. Plus, training should be provided so that the operator is aware of all aspects of operation. 


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Operator Qualifications

No minors should be allowed to operate construction equipment. 

No one should ever run or be near construction equipment or the compaction area when under the influence of medication, illegal drugs, or alcohol. Serious injury or death can occur as a result of improper use or neglect of safety practices and attitudes. 


Operator Training

New operators should be trained by experienced operators on standard operating procedures, safety guidelines, and emergency protocols.  
Before using any compaction equipment, all operators should be required to read the safety instructions, operations, and maintenance sections of the equipment manual written by the manufacturer and provided with the machine.  

Operators should be familiar with the caution and warning symbols on the machine and what to do in emergency situations. 

Operators should be familiar with proper starting, handling, and stopping of the machine. It should be second nature for them in case they have to use these procedures in an emergency. 

Most product manufacturers have operational video training available online.

Application Areas

Train your team to always be aware of the application project at hand and surrounding area. They should be alert to equipment, vehicles, utilities, and co-workers, and keep unauthorized personnel, children, and pets away from the compaction equipment and work area.   

If possible, post highly visible safety cones or caution tape to mark off the compaction area to avoid entry, falls, tripping, or other mishaps. 

Your crew should be mindful of the compactor’s and rammer’s changing positions and the movement of other equipment and personnel at the jobsite. It may be a good idea to have a “spotter” or a person responsible for monitoring movements, especially when using large compaction equipment. 

Do not operate compaction machines in areas that contain flammable fuels, objects, or products that produce flammable vapors. To avoid this, check to see if there is a battery version of the product available to eliminate additional hazards from engine combustion.

Safety Devices, Controls and Attachments

Compaction machinery should only be operated when all safety devices and guards are in place and in working order. 

Be sure that all controls operate correctly before throwing a machine into production, and that the equipment is set up correctly according to the instructions in the operator’s manual. 

Before starting work, inspect the machine, and make sure it is clean and running smoothly to avoid accidents and to protect your equipment from damage. 

Do not operate a machine if any safety device or guards are missing or do not work. 


Husqvarna Rammer on Jobsite

Trench Guidelines

Trench work requires a more extensive set of safety practices and regulations. We’ve listed a few of the OSHA regulations (Part 1926, Subpart P.) regarding trench safety. You’ll find the complete list at
  • When running compaction equipment in a trench, be sure to brace the trench walls using a secure shoring method. This can prevent any cave-ins and keep your crew safe.
  • Your operator should be experienced in trench work and should know the regulations before beginning compacting in a trench or confined area.
  • Use your best-trained and most experienced compaction operator for trench work. They should follow OSHA guidelines.

  • If a trench is deeper than 20 feet, contractors must use a registered professional engineer (RPE) to design the trench box or select the right trench box for the depth of the excavation using manufacturer’s tabulated data.
  • Be sure that a trustworthy, competent person (as defined by OSHA in Part 1926.650 revised July 1, 1998) inspects the trench and follows the OSHA guidelines for inspections during the duration of the job.

  • Operators and everyone working near the trench should be aware of a possible cave-in and emergency procedures.

  • Anyone working in the trench should be protected from falling objects. 
  • Consider using remote-controlled compaction equipment for both unshored and shored trenches. This allows the operator to stay outside the trench while operating the equipment.
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