This Just in: Trench Emphasis from OSHA
OSHA has updated the National Emphasis Program (NEP) on preventing trenching and excavation collapses in response to a recent spike in trenching fatalities across the country. National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) are temporary programs that focus OSHA's resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries. Existing and potential new emphasis programs are evaluated primarily using inspection data and injury and illness data by OSHA (OSHA.gov).
Although OSHA refers to National Emphasis Programs as being temporary, this particular program has been in effect since 1985. The purpose of the update however is to require each area office/region to develop and implement outreach programs in support of this emphasis program. OSHA has provided more compliance assistance to employers in recent years than ever before and this program update supports their mission of assuring a safe and healthy work environment for all working men and women.
The bottom line is trenching and excavation work can be extremely dangerous if the proper equipment is not used. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 130 workers lost their lives while working in or around excavations between 2011 and 2016 with most of those fatalities due to collapses. Of those 130 workers, nearly half died between 2015 and 2016. This emphasis program requires compliance officers to initiate an inspection whenever they observe an open trench or an open excavation, regardless of whether or not a violation is readily observed. These observations may occur during the course of their normal work-day travel or while engaged in programmed or un-programmed inspections.
It’s not uncommon for a site utility crew to be approached by an OSHA compliance officer on foot, as the bottom of most excavations cannot be seen from the comfort of the compliance officer’s vehicle. Based on the compliance officer’s observations of the work area, if hazards are present they will most likely open a full inspection with employee interviews and documentation requests (safety programs, training records, site inspections, etc.). If no hazards are present, the inspection may end shortly after it starts, and work will resume.
Preventing trench and excavation collapses is not difficult, but it does require the proper equipment. Based on the size of the work area and the type of soils present, the trench can simply be sloped or benched based on OSHA 1926 Subpart P. If the work is occurring in the public way or the contractor is looking to keep the size of the trench to a minimum, a trench box or hydraulic shoring can be used to brace the walls of the excavation and prevent any potential cave-in. Remember to always have the competent person inspect a trench or excavation before any worker enters it and to provide proper access for employees entering or exiting the trench. For additional information on how to protect your employees from trenching and excavation hazards, visit OSHA.gov or contact your Construction Safety Advocate at Assurance.
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