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OSHA enforces trenching and excavation safety standards

New Jersey residents who work in construction should know that trenching and excavation operations are resulting in more and more fatalities. OSHA recorded 130 trenching/excavation-related fatalities between 2011 and 2016, with 49 percent of them occurring between 2015 and 2016. Roughly 80 percent of these fatalities occurred within the private construction industry. OSHA has stated that trench collapsing is a risk in virtually all operations.

To increase enforcement of trenching and excavation safety standards, OSHA updated its National Emphasis Program. The revised NEP went into effect Oct. 1. For the first 90 days from that date, OSHA's regional and area offices will be providing outreach to employers to assist with compliance.

After that, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will inspect all open trenches and open excavations. CSHOs will have the ability to expand inspections wherever health hazards and other violations are clearly seen. They will also inspect operations based on any complaints, referrals and incidents relating to issues.

The following are some of OSHA's basic requirements. Trenches 5 feet or deeper require a protective system; those 20 feet or deeper require one that has been designed by a registered engineering professional. These systems should include hydraulic supports to prevent soil movement and trench boxes to prevent soil cave-ins. Equipment and materials must be away from the edge. Furthermore, trenches should have safe entrances and exits.

An employee who was injured in a trench collapse or other accident even though the employer was compliant with all safety standards should know that they could still apply for workers' compensation benefits. These benefits will only pay out a portion of lost wages, but they may cover past medical expenses and even short- or long-term disability leave. The victim could have a lawyer guide them through the filing process and assist with the appeal if the claim is denied.

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