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Support of Excavation

209. Support of Excavation

209.1. Types of Excavation
There are two basic types of excavations: (1) open excavations where stability
is achieved by providing stable side slopes and (2) braced excavations where
vertical or sloped sides are stabilized by structural systems that can be
restrained laterally by internal or external structural elements. Some
examples are skeleton shoring (excavation in most soils up to 20 ft depth),
box shoring (depths up to 40 ft), telescopic shoring (very deep trenches).
In selecting and designing the excavation system, the primary controlling
factors are (1) soil-type and soil-strength parameters, (2) groundwater
conditions, (3) slope protection, (4) side and bottom stability, and (5) vertical
and lateral movements of adjacent areas and eects on existing structures.
A trench shield is a rigid prefabricated steel unit which extends from the
bottom of the excavation to within a few feet of the top of the cut. Pipes are
laid within the shield, which is pulled ahead, as trenching proceeds. Typically,
this system is useful in loose granular or soft cohesive soils where the
excavation depth does not exceed 12 ft.
In trench timber shoring , braces and shoring of trench are carried along
with the excavation. Braces and diagonal shores of timber should not be
subjected to compressive stresses in excess of


where L = unsupported length (in)

D = least side of the timber (in)

axial = allowable compressive stress (psi)

209.2. Modes of Failure

The loads exerted on wall/soil system tend to produce a variety of potential
failure modes. These failure modes, the evaluation of the loads on the
system, and selection of certain system parameters to prevent failure are
discussed next.
A deep-seated failure causes rotational failure of an entire soil mass
containing an anchored or cantilever wall. This type of failure is independent
of the structural characteristics of the wall and/or anchor and cannot be
remedied by increasing the depth of penetration or by repositioning the
anchor. The best option to reduce the likelihood of this failure is to change
the geometry of retained material or improve the soil strengths.

Rotational failure due to inadequate pile penetration

exhibits itself as large

rigid body rotation of a cantilever or anchored wall due to lateral soil and/or
water pressures. This type of failure is prevented by adequate penetration of
the piling in a cantilever wall or by a proper combination of penetration and
anchor position for an anchored wall.

Strength failure of sheet pile or anchor components

can occur due to

choice of structurally inadequate components. This type of failure can be

avoided by designing these components to appropriate strength levels.

209.3. Stabilization
During the planning and design stage, if analyses indicate potential slope
instability, standard means for slope stabilization or retention should be
considered. On occasion, the complexity of a situation may dictate using very
specialized stabilization methods. These may include grouting and injection,
ground freezing, deep drainage, and stabilization, such as vacuum wells or
electro osmosis.

209.4. Bottom Heave in a Cut in Clay

Figure 209.1(a ) shows a cut in clay braced with vertical sheet piles. Figure
209.1(b ) shows the same cut with the sheet piles driven to an added depth d
below the bottom of the cut. According to Bjerrum and Eide [1], the factor of
safety against heave at the bottom of a cut in clay is given by the Eq. (209.2).
Usually a safety factor of at least 1.5 is desired.


Figure 209.1. Heave at the bottom of a cut in clay.

where c = cohesion of the clay

H = depth of cut
= unit weight of soil

q = uniform surcharge at surface

N c = factor dependent on the H /B and B /L ratios (see Fig. 209.2)
B = width of trench
L = length of trench

Figure 209.2. Nc factor (Bjerrum and Eide) for evaluating bottom

heave in clay. (Based on Bjerrum and Eide's equation.)
The factor N c is shown in Fig. 209.2. If the factor of safety is inadequate,
then the sheet pile is driven deeper. The force P acting on the buried sheet
pile is given by

(209.3a )

(209.3b )

209.5. Typical Plan and Elevation of a Braced Excavation

Figure 209.3 shows a typical schematic of a vertical cut supported by a
system of vertical and horizontal structural members. The earth is supported
by interlocking sheet piles, which in turn are supported by horizontal

members (wales) which are shown spaced a (vertical) distance h v apart. If

the sheet pile is assumed to behave as if it is continuous over several wales,
the bending moment per unit width is given by


Figure 209.3. Plan and elevation of a braced excavation.

where p is the horizontal soil pressure. Alternatively, a conservative decision
may be to assume that the steel pile is pin-connected at the wales and use.

If the allowable bending stress in the sheet pile is F a , then the required
section modulus (per unit width) of the sheet pile is

The force per unit length of the wales can be approximately given by


209.6. Equivalent Pressure Diagrams for Braced Cuts

The soil pressure existing behind structural elements such as sheet piles
supporting soil in an excavation can be very complex. One of the commonly
used empirical models is that due to Peck[2] which is shown in Fig. 209.4. For
a vertical cut of depth H , Peck proposed a lateral soil pressure which is a
function of the unit weight, angle of internal friction, and/or the cohesion of
the soil.

Figure 209.4. Earth pressures in a braced cut (Peck).

209.6.1. Sand
For an excavation in cohesionless soil (sand) the active earth pressure is
given by

The resultant active force (per unit length of the cut) is equal to p a H and
may be assumed to act at midheight (y = 0.5H from the bottom of the

209.6.2. Soft to Medium Clay

For a soft to medium clay, for which the undrained cohesion (c u ) is less than
H /4, the active earth pressure is assumed to grow linearly to the maximum
value over a depth of 0.25H and then remain constant (see Fig. 209.4). The
maximum value of the active pressure is given by

The resultant active force (per unit length of the cut) is equal to 0.88 p a H and
may be assumed to act at a height y = 0.44H from the bottom of the
209.6.3. Sti Clay
For sti clays (unconned cohesion greater than H /4), the active earth
pressure is assumed to grow linearly to the maximum value over a depth of
0.25H , remain constant over the middle of the depth H and then decay to
zero at the bottom of the cut (see Fig. 209.4).

The resultant active force (per unit length) is equal to 0.75p a H and may be
assumed to act at midheight (y = 0.5H from the bottom of the excavation).
Example 209.1
A 20-ft-deep, 10-ft-wide, and 60-ft-long trench in a silty clay is braced as
shown. Struts are placed every 15 ft (longitudinally). The soil has unconned
compression strength S uc = 1000 psf and angle of internal friction = 0. The
unit weight of the soil is = 115 pcf. Assume that the sheeting is driven 5 ft
below the bottom of the cut. Calculate
1. The factor of safety against bottom heave
2. The maximum pressure on the sheet pile from the soil
3. The axial force in the bottom strut

1. Factor of safety against bottom heave is given by

where c = cohesion = Suc = 500 psf

H = depth of cut = 20 ft
= unit weight of soil = 115 pcf

q = uniform surcharge at surface = 0 (this case)

N c = factor dependent on the H/B and L/B ratios
Using the parameters H/B = 20/10 = 2.0 and L/B = 60/10 = 6.0, Fig. 209.3
yields Nc = 7.3

2. Maximum lateral pressure: Since the cohesion is less than H /4 = 575 psf,
the soil may be classied as a soft-to-medium clay. The soil pressure (Peck)
is therefore as shown on the gure below. The maximum pressure is
calculated as

However, since this is subject to a minimum value of 0.3 H , we use

3. Using a tributary area concept, the bottom strut carries load from 4 ft

above and 3 ft below the strut. The pressure diagram is uniform (p = 690
psf). The resultant load on strut no. 3 is therefore

209.7. Design of Sheet Pile Walls

Sheet pile wall is a row of interlocking, vertical pile segments driven to form
an essentially straight wall whose longitudinal dimension is suciently large
such that its behavior may be based on a typical vertical slice of unit width
(usually 1 ft).

Cantilever wall is a sheet pile wall which derives its support solely through
interaction with the surrounding soil into which it is embedded. Cantilever
walls are usually used as oodwall or as earth retaining walls with low wall
heights (10 ft to 15 ft or less). Because cantilever walls derive their support
solely from the foundation soils, they may be installed in relatively close
proximity (but not less than 1.5 times the overall length of the piling) to
existing structures.

Anchored wall is a sheet pile wall which derives its support from a
combination of interaction with the surrounding soil and one (or more)
mechanical devices which inhibit motion at isolated point(s). An anchored
wall is required when the height of the wall exceeds the height suitable for a
cantilever or when lateral deections are a consideration. The proximity of
an anchored wall to an existing structure is governed by the horizontal
distance required for installation of the anchor.

Retaining wall is a sheet pile wall (cantilever or anchored) which sustains a

dierence in soil surface elevation from one side to the other. The change in
soil surface elevations may be produced by excavation, dredging, backlling,
or a combination.

Dredge side refers to the side of a retaining wall with the lower soil surface
elevation. For a oodwall, it refers to the side with the lower water elevation.
The dredge line is the soil surface on the dredge side of a retaining or
oodwall. The wall height is measured from the dredge line. The retained

side refers to the side of a retaining wall with the higher soil surface
elevation or the higher water elevation. The backll is the material on the
retained side of the wall.

Anchorage refers to a mechanical assemblage consisting of wales, tie rods,

and anchors which supplement soil support for an anchored wall (Fig. 209.5).
For a singly anchored wall, anchors are attached to the wall at only one
elevation, whereas for a multiply anchored wall, anchors are attached to the
wall at more than one elevation. The anchor force is the reaction force
(usually expressed per foot of wall) which the anchor must provide to the

Figure 209.5. Sheet pile wall anchored by tie rod and deadman.
Wale is a horizontal beam attached to the wall to transfer the anchor force
from the tie rods to the sheet piling (Fig. 209.6).

Figure 209.6. Sheet pile wall anchored by grouted tie rod.

Tie rods refer to parallel bars or tendons which transfer the anchor force
from the anchor to the wales.
209.7.1. Stability Design for Cantilever Walls
It is assumed that a cantilever wall rotates as a rigid body about some point
in its embedded length. This assumption implies that the wall is subjected to
the net active pressure distribution from the top of the wall down to a point
(subsequently called the "transition point") near the point of zero
displacement. The design pressure distribution is then assumed to vary
linearly from the net active pressure at the transition point to the full net
passive pressure at the bottom of the wall. Equilibrium of the wall requires
that both the sum of horizontal forces and the sum of moments about any
point must be equal to zero. The two equilibrium equations may be solved for
the location of the transition point (i.e., the distance z in Fig. 209.7) and the
required depth of penetration (distance d ). Because the simultaneous
equations are nonlinear in z and d , a trial and error solution is required.

Figure 209.7. Earth pressures on cantilever sheet pile wall.

209.8. Ultimate Resistance of Tiebacks

The ultimate resistance of tiebacks in sand is given by

where d = diameter of the grout plug

L = length of the grout plug

= average eective vertical stress for the grout plug

K = earth pressure coecient

= angle of friction of soil
In clays, the ultimate resistance of tiebacks can be taken as

where c a = adhesion of the clay

209.9. OSHA Regulations for Excavations

A brief summary of OSHA regulations [3] on excavations is presented in this

Banks more than 4 ft high shall be shored or sloped to the angle of

repose where a danger of slides or cave-ins exists as a result of
Sides of trenches in unstable or soft material, 4 ft or more in depth,
shall be shored, sheeted, braced, sloped, or otherwise supported
by means of sucient strength to protect the employee working
within them.
Sides of trenches in hard or compact soil, including embankments,
shall be shored or otherwise supported when the trench is more
than 4 ft in depth and 8 ft or more in length. In lieu of shoring, the
sides of the trench above the 4-ft level may be sloped to preclude
collapse, but shall not be steeper than 2V :1H .
Additional precautions by way of shoring and bracing shall be
taken to prevent slides or cave-ins when (a) excavations or trenches
are made in locations adjacent to backlled excavations or (b)
where excavations are subjected to vibrations from railroad or
highway trac, operation of machinery, or any other source.
Employees entering bell-bottom pier holes shall be protected by the
installation of a removable-type casing of sucient strength to
resist shifting of the surrounding earth. Such temporary protection
shall be provided for the full depth of that part of each pier hole
which is above the bell. A lifeline, suitable for instant rescue and
securely fastened to the shafts, shall be provided. This lifeline shall
be individually manned and separate from any line used to remove
materials excavated from the bell footing.
Where employees are required to be in trenches 3 ft deep or more,
ladders shall be provided which extend from the oor of the trench
excavation to at least 3 ft above the top of the excavation. They
shall be located to provide means of exit without more than 25 ft of
lateral travel.
Cross braces or trench jacks shall be placed in true horizontal
position, spaced vertically, and secured to prevent sliding, falling,
or kickouts.


L. and Eide O. (1956), "Stability of Strutted Excavation in Clay,"

Geotechnique , Vol. 6, No. 1, 3247.


R.B. (1969), "Deep Excavation and Tunneling in Soft Ground,"

Proceedings, Seventh International Conference on Soil Mechanics and

Foundation Engineering, Mexico City.

2226, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health

Administration, 2002 (Revised).


Indranil Goswami: Civil Engineering All-In-One PE Exam Guide: Breadth and Depth,
Second Edition. Support of Excavation, Chapter (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2012),

Copyright McGraw-Hill Education. All rights reserved.

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