Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced enhanced enforcement initiatives to address a significant increase in employee fatalities caused by trench collapses. The new initiative is based on an existing national emphasis program for trenching violations. OSHA says it will “consider every available tool at the agency's disposal” to address the increase in deaths, including criminal referrals for prosecution.
Many of these incidents are especially frustrating due to the apparent lack of basic trench protection systems. In some cases, the employer had strong trench safety policies in effect, but employees were injured after the failure of work crews to follow their requirements. While trench hazards are nothing new, employers should redouble their efforts to implement and inspect worksites with active trenching operations. Employers failing to heed OSHA’s directive can expect maximum civil and even criminal penalties.