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Digging a Deeper Hole: OSHA’s New Program to Target Trenching and Excavation Activities

Labor & Employment Alert Kerry H. Mohan and Fred Gants

For years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") has focused its efforts on trenching and excavation activities. In addition to trenching and excavation activities being among the most commonly cited, OSHA has also sought criminal penalties for trenching and excavation incidents resulting in employee fatalities. However, under OSHA's recently announced National Emphasis Program ("NEP"), future trenching or excavation activities will face even more scrutiny than before.

Under the new NEP, OSHA is to conduct trenching and excavated-related "education and prevention outreach." But, beginning on January 1, 2019, OSHA will begin its enforcement activities and require OSHA compliance officers ("CSHOs") to initiate an inspection "whenever they observe an open trench or open excavation," regardless of whether: (i) a violation is readily observed; or (ii) the CSHO views the trench or excavation while traveling during the work day or during an inspection. In other words, any time a CSHO sees a trench or excavation, employers should expect that an inspection will occur.

Consequently, any employers engaged in trenching or excavation activities, or working on a site whether trenches or excavations exist, should be aware of the significantly increased chance of OSHA initiating an inspection. To minimize the likelihood of being hit with significant citations or penalties, such employers should ensure their programs are compliant with OSHA's regulations and their employees are adequately trained on those programs.

If you have questions about OSHA’s new emphasis program, OSHA's trenching and excavation regulations, how to prepare for and manage an OSHA inspection, or how to defend OSHA citations, please contact: