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OSHA program on trench and excavation safety updated

Many construction workers in Illinois have to work in and around trenches, so they will want to know that OSHA has updated its National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavation. The updates reflect the need for increased enforcement as worker injuries and fatalities have gone up in recent years. Between 2011 and 2016, 130 workers died in trenching and excavation operations, and 49 percent of those fatalities occurred between 2015 and 2016 alone.

OSHA has required its regional and area offices to provide outreach to employers wishing to comply with trench and excavation standards. This outreach period lasts for the 90 days following the Oct. 1 release of OSHA's updated NEP.

After that period, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers are to conduct inspections of all trenches and excavation regardless of whether there are safety violations. Additional inspections will be required as a result of incidents, referrals and complaints.

The following are just a few basic requirements that employers must meet. Trenches should have a safe entrance and exit and be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards. Those that are 5 feet or deeper require a protective system while those that are 20 feet or deeper will need one designed by a registered professional engineer. Aluminum hydraulic supports and trench boxes can help prevent soil movement and soil cave-ins, respectively.

In the event of a work accident, victims will want to know what their options are for seeking damages. If no one was at fault, or if victims themselves were to blame, then filing a workers' compensation claim may be best. They might receive regular payments covering their medical expenses and a portion of their lost income, or they may opt for a lump-sum settlement if eligible. A lawyer may be able to guide victims through the filing process and mount an appeal if necessary.

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