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OSHA's National Emphasis Program for trenching updated

Construction workers in Georgia should know that more and more people are dying in trenching and excavation procedures. Between 2011 and 2016, OSHA reported 130 such fatalities with 49 percent of them occurring between 2015 and 2016. In response, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has updated the National Emphasis Program regarding trenching and excavation.

The revised NEP was released on October 1, 2018, and for 90 days after that date, OSHA's area and regional offices will be reaching out to employers who need assistance complying with the safety regulations. Compliance and Safety and Health Officers will then conduct inspections of all open trenches and excavations regardless of whether they violate safety standards. They may also inspect operations based on any incidents, referrals or complaints.

Employers should be aware of the safety standards. For example, they must have a competent individual inspect trenches every day and whenever conditions change. Trenches must have a safe entrance and exit and be free of atmospheric hazards and standing water. Walls should be benched or sloped at an angle that is inclined away from the excavation area.

Trenches that are 5 feet or deeper require protective systems. When they are 20 feet or deeper, the system must be designed by a registered engineering professional. The systems should include hydraulic supports to shore the trench walls and prevent soil movement as well as trench boxes to prevent soil cave-ins.

Despite their best efforts, employers cannot prevent all workplace injuries. When accidents happen, victims can consider filing for workers' compensation benefits, which can cover their medical expenses as well as a percentage of the income they lost during their physical recovery. They could also opt for a settlement instead. A lawyer can explain the difference between liability and non-liability settlements and whether victims should choose a lump-sum or structured settlement. An attorney could also hire third parties to build up the case.

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