Trench and Excavation National Emphasis Program (NEP) – What You Need to Know
Joe Whiteman, Director of Safety Services   2-2019

Recently OSHA has doubled down on trench and excavation hazards. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that fatalities resulting from trench and excavation activities in 2016 were more than the two previous years combined, at a staggering 23 lives lost. Those numbers are trending entirely in the wrong direction, which has led us where we are today, preparing to see increased enforcement on construction sites across the country. This new NEP supersedes the Special Emphasis Program issued in 1985. Along with it comes significant changes as to how attention will be paid to trench and excavation activities.

First and foremost is outreach. The NEP requires each area office or region, including states, to offer outreach training in support of this program, along with compliance-based training. As this effort began October 1, we are halfway through the 90-day outreach timeframe. Enforcement under the new NEP began the first day of the new year. So what can we expect to see; a noticeable increase in enforcement activity.

OSHA’s instruction directive, dated October 1, 2018, outlines how they are to carry out both the outreach and the enforcement under this new emphasis program. Since trenching and excavation activities are fleeting – only there for a short while – OSHA has a short window of opportunity for compliance-based inspections and enforcement. They are not treading lightly.

In response to the short enforcement period, Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) are required to initiate an inspection whenever they observe an open excavation, regardless of a hazard present or not. If they are on your site for a programmed inspec­tion for another hazard, if an excavation is present they must inspect it! If, for whatever reason they cannot initiate an inspection, they are required to report the excavation to the area office. They must report the location, description, condition, any hazards pres­ent, number of workers in the area and, if possible, include pictures. The intent is that another CSHO will be dispatched to follow up.

It’s a safe bet that if excavation and trenching activities are present on the site, OSHA will be around. Take advantage of the outreach portion of this program while you have the time. Follow up with your crews to ensure all the correct steps are being taken for safe practices. Make certain the proper pre-planning takes place, activity permits are submitted, and the proper access and protective systems for soils conditions are put in place. One life lost to trenching and excavation activities is too many. National Emphasis Program or not, we need to ensure our workers are provided safe work environments.

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