With the rise in construction excavation and trenching fatalities in recent years, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is taking action by ramping up its education and prevention initiatives.
OSHA is also beefing up enforcement activities, and large fines aren't being limited to cases involving a fatality. Just ask the Michigan contractor recently cited for alleged trench-related violations and looking at potential fines of more than $450,000. Or ask the Florida contractor cited for violations and fined more than $270,000 earlier this year after an employee was injured.
Unfortunately, too many accidents do end in fatality. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, excavation and trench fatalities in 2016 were almost twice the average of the previous five years combined.
Why are these accidents happening so frequently? Explanations run the gamut including the pressures of time and money, lack of supervision, ignorance of safety rules, laziness, and insufficient inspection and enforcement by federal and state safety agencies. To fight this trend, OSHA has updated its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on trenching and excavation safety. In part, the updated instruction provides a national reporting system for OSHA trenching and excavation inspections by updating guidance for recording trenching and excavation inspections, and requires each Area Office and Region to develop and implement outreach programs to support this program.
But OSHA isn’t just cracking down with tighter rules and more inspections. They’re offering educational resources, prevention outreach, and compliance assistance to help employers address these hazards.
OSHA is providing a three month “grace period” that began October 1, 2018, during which time they won’t increase enforcement activities, instead focusing on education and prevention outreach. But after the initial three months, enforcement will ramp up and any contractor in violation of the safety standards will likely face a hefty penalty.
What can construction contractors do to minimize this risk and avoid costly fines?
Start by making sure your workers follow these essential “rules of the road” for excavating and working around trenches:
- Never enter a trench until it has been inspected
- Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges
- Keep materials and equipment away from the edge of trenches
- Know the location of underground utilities
- Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases
- Inspect trenches at the beginning of each shift and after a rainstorm
- Ensure there is a safe way to enter and exit the trench
Next, take advantage of these resources OSHA is making available:
Finally, work closely with your risk management team and your construction insurance provider to ensure you’re taking all necessary precautions when conducting this type of work, and that you’re prepared for the worst just in case.
Working in and around trenches and excavations is inherently dangerous for the workers inside them and the workers on the surface. But trench-related injuries and fatalities are completely preventable with proper training and safe work habits.
To learn more about managing this risk and avoiding potentially devastating fines and penalties, talk to the construction insurance professionals at BNC.