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OSHA Announces Emphasis on Excavation Safety

Monday, October 8, 2018

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced that it has updated its National Emphasis Program on preventing trenching and excavation collapses.

The Program

The update is in response to a recent uptick in trenching fatalities, the agency said, and it plans to increase education and enforcement efforts, which include its inspectors recording trenching and excavation inspections in a national reporting system, and the development of outreach programs.

Ed Brown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced that it has updated its National Emphasis Program on preventing trenching and excavation collapses.

"Removing workers from and helping workers identify trenching hazards is critical," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.

"OSHA will concentrate the full force of enforcement and compliance assistance resources to help ensure that employers are addressing these serious hazards."

The emphasis program, which started Oct. 1, will begin with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach. Enforcement activities will begin after the outreach period and will remain in effect until canceled. OSHA-approved state plans are expected to have enforcement procedures that are equally as effective, the agency said.

Other Steps

The DOL committed to reducing excavation and trenching hazards back in March, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers that showed excavation and trenching fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous two years combined.

Since then, other agencies have taken extra steps, most notably the release of a hazard alert by Kentucky’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program—a group from the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The DOL committed to reducing excavation and trenching hazards back in March, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers that showed excavation and trenching fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous two years combined.

Kentucky officials outlined three such deaths in the state and went on to detail tips for workers that included:

  • Have a competent person inspect trenches prior to each work shift and after every rainstorm or other hazard-increasing occurrence;
  • All trenches between five feet and 20 feet in depth must have protective measures such as benching, shoring, sloping and shielding to protect employees. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer;
  • Keep excavated soil and other materials at least two feet from trench edges;
  • Train employees on how to spot signs of an imminent trench collapse, such as tension cracks, bulging and toppling; and
  • Provide a safe method to exit trenches within 25 feet of workers.

And even earlier this year, Washington cracked down by filing felony charges against a contractor for an employee’s death for the first time in the state’s history.

That accident occurred in January 2016, when crews from Alki Construction were working on a sewer repair project at a Seattle site when a trench collapsed just before 11 a.m. Worker Harold Felton was buried in six feet of wet soil, reports said, and when the Seattle Fire Department arrived, there were indications that he was alive.

After about 20 minutes at the scene, crews changed from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.

With the new NEP, OSHA also noted that it has developed a series of resources to help keep workers safe from trenching and excavation hazards.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Health and safety; NIOSH; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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