On Oct. 1, the revisions that OSHA made to its National Emphasis Program for trenching and excavation went into effect. Now, the organization’s area and regional offices are reaching out to assist employers with safety compliance. This outreach period lasts 90 days, so employers in Kentucky, especially those in the private construction industry, may want to take advantage of it.
This 90-day period is followed by the inspection phase, where Compliance and Safety and Health Officers inspect all open trenches and excavations regardless of whether they violate safety standards or not. OSHA’s decisions are a response to the increasing number of worker injuries and deaths that have taken place during trenching and excavation operations. From 2011 to 2016, there were 130 recorded fatalities, and 49 percent of them were between 2015 and 2016.
OSHA’s basic requirements for trench safety are laid out in a Quick Card accompanying the NEP. Employers must ensure that trenches have a safe entrance and exit, have trench walls that are sloped away from excavation and be free of standing water as well as atmospheric hazards.
Protective systems are mandatory for trenches 5 feet or deeper. A registered engineering professional must design systems for trenches 20 feet or deeper. Furthermore, hydraulic supports and trench boxes should be in place to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
Unfortunately, safety compliance does not guarantee the prevention of all accidents. Workers who are injured through their own negligence can file for workers’ compensation, which covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages during recovery. If the other side doubts that some of the reported injuries are linked to the accident, a lawyer could hire medical experts to support the claim. Legal counsel could also help with an appeal.