Trenching and Excavation under the Spotlight in New OSHA Program

Source: Tracy Fox - 123RF

OSHA officially launched its National Emphasis Program (NEP) this month, targeting trenching and excavation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, between 2011 and 2016 there were 130 fatalities occurring in trenching and excavation operations. The private construction industry accounted for 80% of those fatalities, and 49% of them occurred between 2015 and 2016.

Of the private construction fatalities, 40 (38%) were at industrial places and premises; 39 (38%) were at private residences, and 21 (20%) occurred at streets or highways.

Because of the continuing incidence of trench/excavation collapses and the accompanying loss of life, the agency has determined that an increased OSHA enforcement presence at worksites where such operations are being conducted is warranted.

Trenching and excavation work creates hazards for workers which are extremely dangerous. Compliance with OSHA construction standards applicable to such operations is frequently bypassed because of economic pressures, a belief that compliance is unnecessary or an expectation that these short-term operations will go undetected.

Although it would be expected that, after more than 12 years of enforcement activity, most employers would be adhering to shoring and sloping requirements, experience has shown that such is not the case.

OSHA believes that the rate of deaths and serious injuries resulting from trench/excavation accidents (mostly cave-ins) can be significantly affected only by a concentration of compliance resources within the area of trenching and excavation operations.

Currently, 6 of OSHA’s 10 Regions are already conducting local emphasis programs in this area. These local emphasis programs are all similar in nature. The decision has been made to replace these programs with a National Emphasis Program extended to all Regions.

OSHA said it will provide support for compliance assistance and inspection programs, create a national reporting system for all OSHA trenching and excavation inspections, and establish a requirement that each OSHA Area Office develops and implement outreach programs.