By A. Scott HeckerAdam R. Young, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA is highlighting trenching hazards, and their potentially-dire consequences, on its homepage

OSHA had released CPL 02-00-161 on October 1, 2018, continuing its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, (“NEP”), and requiring agency compliance safety and health officers (“CSHO”) to “initiate inspections under this NEP whenever they observe an open trench or an open excavation, regardless of whether or not a violation is readily observed.” The NEP established procedures for prompt Area Office involvement and provided for a national online system to track trenching and excavation inspections.

OSHA’s alert on trench collapses explains that these “collapses, or cave-ins, are more likely than other excavation-related incidents to result in worker fatalities” because “[i]t only takes seconds to become buried in thousands of pounds of soil.

To control trenching hazards, the agency recommends that “employers act responsibly, train employees, and follow federal standards.” Further, OSHA encourages employers to “keep excavation work safe” by ensuring:

  • There is a safe way to enter and exit the trench;
  • Trenches have cave-in protection – remember to Slope, Shore, Shield;
  • Materials are kept away from the edge of the trench;
  • The area is scanned for standing water or other environmental hazards; and
  • No one enters a trench unless it is properly inspected.

Construction contractors conducting trenching and excavation operations, particularly those with operations on major thoroughfares, at high-profile locations, or in areas CSHOs are likely to travel, may face increased OSHA enforcement activities and regulatory scrutiny.  Employers should consult with safety professionals and outside counsel to ensure compliance with relevant OSHA Standards.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.