OSHA steps up enforcement of trenching safety violations

Construction workers in South Carolina face an array of risks on the job. All kinds of construction work can be dangerous when dealing with large, heavy equipment and incomplete structures. In particular, trenching and excavation jobs can be dangerous, and these types of projects have involved a growing number of worker fatalities. Between 2011 and 2016, 130 workers were killed on the job while participating in trenching and excavation projects. Of these, 49 percent were killed between 2015 and 2016.

Eighty percent of these workplace fatalities occurred in the private construction industry, and they took place at different types of job sites. Forty workers died at industrial premises, 39 at private homes and 21 more on roads or highways. In response, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, launched a National Emphasis Program focusing on trenching and excavation projects. OSHA has imposed penalties on companies for workplace safety violations; in one case, a fine of over $400,000 was levied on one firm for trench cave-ins and other safety issues. Another company was fined $250,000 for failing to use cave-in protections while employees worked in trenches.

OSHA is stating its emphasis with a three-month period of education and outreach beginning on Oct. 1. Among other initiatives, OSHA is creating a national system to report trenching and excavation inspections. It is also requiring regional offices to develop their own programs for enhanced inspection and enforcement of trenching and excavation projects. When inspectors encounter these types of projects, they have been directed to launch an inspection even if no violations were witnessed.

When construction workers are hurt in workplace accidents, they may face escalating medical costs and disabilities that prevent them from returning to work. A workers' compensation lawyer may help injured employees protect their rights and seek the benefits they deserve.