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OSHA revises NEP on excavation and increases enforcement

Construction employees in New Jersey who work frequently may be aware that OSHA has a National Emphasis Program for trenching and excavation. On Oct. 1, a revised NEP went into effect and initiated a 90-day outreach period for employers across the U.S. who need help complying with OSHA's safety standards. The updates come as a response to the increase in deaths and injuries among trenching and excavation workers.

Once the outreach period ends, the Compliance and Safety and Health Officers at OSHA's regional and area offices will be inspecting open trenches and excavations regardless of whether safety standards are violated or not. Should health hazards or other violations be in plain view, the inspector can widen the scope of the inspection. The CSHO can also inspect operations after taking any incidents, referrals and complaints into account.

A Quick Card accompanying the NEP explains the basic safety requirements. In addition to having safe entrances and exits, all trenches should be free of standing liquid and atmospheric hazards. When 5 feet or deeper, trenches require a protective system; when 20 feet or deeper, that system must be designed by a registered engineering professional.

The system must include hydraulic supports, usually made from aluminum, and trench boxes. Furthermore, trench walls should be sloped or benched at an angle inclined away from the excavation site.

In the event that safety measures do not prevent an accident, an injured employee can still be covered for medical expenses and reimbursed for a percentage of lost income. However, it's important to have a lawyer who can explain how the workers' compensation program operates as certain requirements must be met. For example, the lawyer may need to bring in medical experts to prove that all reported injuries are accident related.

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