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OSHA updates NEP for trench and excavation safety

Construction workers in New Jersey should know that trenching and excavation operations are leading to more fatalities. Between 2011 and 2016, OSHA recorded 130 fatalities related to such operations. Approximately 49 percent occurred between 2015 and 2016 alone. The private construction industry accounted for 80 percent, numbering 104, of all the fatalities.

Seeing a need for increased enforcement of trenching and excavation safety standards, OSHA has updated its National Emphasis Program for the field. The revised NEP went into effect on Oct. 1. OSHA has stipulated that its regional and area offices provide outreach for 90 days following Oct. 1; this way, employers can ensure that they comply with safety standards.

After this 90-day period, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will conduct inspections of all trenches and excavations, regardless of whether safety standards have been violated, and expand the scope of an inspection if health hazards or violations are plainly seen. Operations will also be reviewed based on any incidents, referrals and complaints.

Employers who wish to comply with standards should ensure that trenches 5 feet or deeper have a protective system in place. Those 20 feet or deeper will need a system designed by a registered professional engineer. Trenches should be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards. Trench walls should be sloped or benched away from the excavation.

Workers injured in a trench may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits so long as the employer has workers' comp insurance. Victims will need to prove that the reported injuries were accident-related and that the accident was work-related. Since claims can be denied, it might be a good idea to hire a lawyer. If victims' condition worsens after receiving benefits, the lawyer may help reopen the claim. Workers' comp isi designed to cover medical expenses and a percentage of lost income.

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