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OSHA revises NEP for trenching and excavation

In response to the increase in worker injuries and fatalities from trenching and excavation operations, OSHA has revised the National Emphasis Program that it set up specifically for this field. The revised NEP went into effect Oct. 1, and now OSHA's area and regional offices are providing outreach. Employers in New Jersey will want to make sure they comply with OSHA's safety standards.

This outreach effort lasts for 90 days following Oct. 1. Afterward, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will be conducting inspections on open trenches and excavations regardless of whether they present safety violations. They may also inspect operations based on any incidents, referrals or complaints and expand the scope of inspections when health hazards and other violations are clearly seen.

OSHA has several basic requirements for trenching and excavation safety. Employers must have protective systems for trenches 5 feet or deeper; trenches 20 feet or deeper must have their systems designed by a registered engineering professional. These systems should have hydraulic supports to shore the trench walls and trench boxes to prevent soil cave-ins. The walls themselves should be sloped or benched away from the excavation.

Competent individuals are to inspect trenches every day and when conditions change. Furthermore, trenches should have a safe entrance and exit and be free of standing liquid and atmospheric hazards.

Though employers comply with all the standards and pass all the inspections, they will not be able to prevent all accidents. An employee who falls victim to a trenching or excavation accident may want to see a lawyer who works in workers' compensation law. It must be proven that the accident was work-related and that the reported injuries are accident-related. However, the lawyer could hire investigators for this part. Legal counsel could also make an appeal if the claim is denied.

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