The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced an update to its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on preventing trenching and excavation collapses.

OSHA Puts Emphasis Back on Trenching and Excavation Work

Trenching and excavation work exposes workers to particularly dangerous hazards. According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 130 fatalities recorded in trenching and excavation operations between 2011 and 2016. The private construction industry accounted for 80% of those fatalities—and 49% of those fatalities occurred between 2015 and 2016.

Back in 1985, OSHA implemented a special emphasis program on trenching and excavation in response to a pattern of trench and excavation collapses. On October 1, 2018, in light of the recent resurgence in trenching and excavation fatalities and serious injuries, OSHA announced the continued implementation of a NEP dedicated to reducing or eliminating workplace hazards associated with trenching and excavation. The program, which begins with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach, will provide support for compliance assistance and inspection programs, provide a national reporting system for all OSHA trenching and excavation inspections, and establish a requirement that each OSHA Area Office develop and implement outreach programs.

OSHA Trenching and Excavation Violations Can Result in High Penalties

OSHA’s long-standing focus on trenching and excavation violations has resulted in numerous high-profile penalties for companies. Earlier this year, OSHA announced proposed penalties in excess of $400,000 against a company for alleged exposure to trench cave-ins and other violations. OSHA issued proposed penalties in excess of $250,000 against another employer after it found that employees were allegedly working without cave-in protection while working in a trench. The issuance of citations and significant penalties is likely to continue as the agency refocuses its efforts toward reducing these types of hazards.