Trenching and excavation operations in North Carolina and elsewhere in the U.S. present a high risk for worker injuries and deaths. There were 130 of the latter between 2011 and 2016, and of those, 49 percent occurred between 2015 and 2016. In response to this increase in deaths, OSHA has updated the National Emphasis Program that concerns trenching and excavation.
Employers who need assistance complying with safety standards should know that for the 90 days following October 1, 2018, which was when the revised NEP went into effect, OSHA's area and regional offices will be providing outreach. After this, the organization's Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will inspect all open trenches and open excavations regardless of if they have violated safety standards. Operations may also be subject to inspection.
Employers have a duty to inspect trenches every day and whenever conditions change. A competent individual should be designated for this duty. In addition, trenches require a cave-in protective system if they are 5 feet or deeper. If 20 feet or deeper, their protective system should be designed by a registered engineering professional. This system should include hydraulic supports and trench boxes.
Trenches are to have a safe entrance and exit. The walls should be sloped or benched at an angle that's pointed away from the excavation. Equipment and materials must be placed away from the edge.
Under workers' compensation law, employees who are injured on the job can receive benefits that cover medical bills and a portion of their lost wages. Unlike with a personal injury claim, filing for workers' compensation does not require victims to prove that anyone's negligence was to blame for the incident. However, victims will be forgoing their right to sue their employer. With a lawyer, the filing process will be much easier, and victims will be able to appeal if the claim is denied.