On October 1, 2018, OSHA’s revised National Emphasis Program for trenching and excavation went into effect. The revision came as a response to the increasing number of worker deaths and injuries during trenching and excavation operations. South Carolina residents who work in the private construction industry should know that 104 out of the 130 excavation fatalities that OSHA recorded between 2011 and 2016 occurred in their industry.
A 90-day outreach period began on October 1 and involved OSHA’s regional and area offices helping employers remain compliant with trench safety standards. Once this period is over, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will inspect open trenches and excavations, even including the ones that have not plainly violated the standards. If hazards and violations are clearly seen, though, the CSHO can widen the scope of the inspection.
A Quick Card accompanying the NEP reminds employers of the basic requirements for preventing trench collapses. Trenches that are 5 feet or deeper require a protective system, and they must be designed by a registered engineering professional if they are 20 feet or deeper. The trenches should include hydraulic supports and trench boxes to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
Equipment and materials should be kept away from the edges of the trench. Ditches should have a safe entrance and exit and be free of atmospheric hazards and standing water. Walls should be sloped or benched away from the excavation.
Employees are still at risk even when employers meet the safety standards. However, under workers’ compensation law, they can still receive benefits if they are injured. These benefits will cover their medical bills and short- or long-term disability leave if applicable. Employees will also be reimbursed for a percentage of their lost income. It’s important to have a lawyer, though, especially if the claim is denied. Victims could even strive for a settlement, and with an attorney’s help, they won’t need to go through a hearing.