OSHA instituted a National Emphasis Program for trenching and excavation safety that went into effect on Oct. 1. Employers in New Jersey, especially those in the private construction industry, should be aware of the changes that will come with the NEP.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how urgently needed the NEP is. Between 2011 and 2016, there were 130 fatalities from trenching and excavation operations. Nearly half of them occurred between 2015 and 2016 alone. Roughly 80 percent took place at private construction sites -- usually in industrial places, at private residences and on streets and highways.
On Oct. 1, area and regional OSHA offices kicked off a three-month period of outreach to employers who need help complying with federal safety guidelines. OSHA also released an updated Trenching and Excavation Quick Card in advance of the NEP, which employers may want to consult.
After the outreach period, OSHA's compliance officers will conduct inspections whenever they observe trenches and excavation sites. Officers conducting programmed inspections will also look for any trenching or excavation being done. Legal experts are warning employers about these "drive-by inspections" and encouraging them to keep up-to-date records because an inspection could end in a request for 300 logs.
Employees who are injured in a trenching or excavation operation but who find no evidence that their employer was to blame can still be covered for their medical bills and for a percentage of lost wages. All they have to do is file for workers' compensation benefits. In such a situation, it's advisable to have a lawyer. A workers' comp attorney can assist with the filing and with an appeal if the claim is denied.