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OSHA to enforce compliance with trench and excavation standards

In Illinois and across the U.S., more workers are dying in trenching and excavation operations. Between 2011 and 2016, 130 such fatalities were reported to OSHA with 49 percent occurring between 2015 and 2016 alone. The private construction industry accounted for 104 of these deaths. OSHA believes that trench collapsing is a risk in virtually all excavations.

To better enforce safety standards, OSHA updated its National Emphasis Program on trenching in excavation. The revised NEP went into effect Oct. 1. For 90 days following that date, OSHA's regional and area offices will reach out to employers who need help complying with the standards.

Following this 90-day period, OSHA's Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will inspect open trenches and excavation sites. Based on incidents, referrals and complaints, some operations may be assigned inspections. The officers could expand the scope of an inspection upon finding health hazards and other violations in plain view.

OSHA's trenching and excavation standards include some of the following basic requirements: Trenches 5 feet and deeper require a protective system, which may include hydraulic supports to prevent soil movement as well as trench boxes to shield the trench walls and prevent soil cave-ins. A registered engineering professional must design the protective system for trenches 20 feet or deeper. Trenches should be free of standing water and other health hazards.

Workers who incur an on-the-job injury may file a workers' compensation claim regardless of who, if anyone, was at fault. While they will not be covered for all their lost wages, they may be covered for medical expenses and, if applicable, short- or long-term disability leave. A lawyer may assist with the process and mount an appeal if the claim is denied. Victims might want to ask their lawyer if they are eligible for a lump-sum settlement.

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