The odds of OSHA showing up at your worksite have increased for construction employers engaged in excavation and trenching.  OSHA recently announced an update to its National Emphasis Program (“NEP”) to prevent trenching and excavation collapses after a spike in construction fatalities.  The October 2018 update focuses on both increased enforcement and education activities by OSHA Area Offices.

The updated NEP instructs inspectors to initiate an investigation whenever they observe an open trench or excavation, regardless of whether or not a violation is readily observable.  These observations could be made during the course of the inspector’s work-day travels or during a routine inspection.  OSHA will also continue to conduct inspections based on employee complaints or referrals from third-parties, such as city inspectors or other governmental agencies.

The scope of the inspection will, in most cases, be limited to evaluating the hazards associated with the excavation.  However, if other violations are observed, the inspector can expand the scope of the inspection to address those other areas.

Pursuant to the updated NEP, OSHA Area Offices are required to develop and implement a “comprehensive excavation safety outreach program.”  The education outreach activities are likely to include:

  • News releases to disseminate information concerning the updated NEP;
  • Seminars on trenching and excavation safety for employer groups, trade associations and unions; and
  • Educational material on trenching and excavation safety for (i) licensing or other municipal agencies for distribution to employers when they request dig permits; (ii) utility and plumbing companies for distribution to employers; and (iii) industry association for distribution to members.

Employers are well advised to focus on maintaining a safe worksite by complying with OSHA’s standards on trenching as well as other applicable standards.  OSHA’s website has a wealth of information regarding trenching and excavation safety.