OSHA has updated its National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavation, which went into effect Oct. 1. The updates are in response to an increase in worker injuries and fatalities during trenching and excavation operations: 130 such fatalities were reported between 2011 and 2016 with 49 percent of them occurring between 2015 and 2016. Construction employees and employers in Pennsylvania will want to know what the updates entail.
For 90 days following Oct. 1, OSHA’s regional and area offices will be providing outreach to assist employers with safety compliance. After that, OSHA’s Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will inspect trenches and inspections, widening the scope of the inspections based on evidence of health hazards and safety violations. The officers will also take into account any incidents, referrals or complaints related to excavation operations.
A Quick Card accompanying the NEP explains what the basic requirements are for maintaining a safe trench. Trenches should be inspected daily and as conditions change; they should be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and should have a safe entrance and exit. Trenches 5 feet or deeper require protective systems.
These protective systems should slope or bench the trench walls away from the excavation site. Aluminum hydraulic supports should shore the walls to prevent soil movement, and trench boxes should shield the walls to prevent soil cave-ins.
When construction workers are injured in a trench, they may be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits and be compensated for their medical expenses and for a portion of their lost income. Those who are already receiving benefits might opt for a lump-sum settlement although they will have to take a cut in the amount they receive. Whatever the situation, victims may want a lawyer by their side. If a claim is denied, the lawyer may assist with the appeal.