Every year, an average of 35 construction workers are killed by trench collapses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With proper shoring, benching, or sloping, each of these deaths is easily preventable. Generally, any trench that exceeds 5 feet in height needs to be properly protected, as the weight of soil can reach up to 3,000 pounds per cubic yard. Through mid-November 2016, the amount of trench deaths in the United States is double that of 2015's total and more than 2015 and 2014 combined. For more on OSHA's trench safety guidelines, click here.
So when a trench collapse does end up killing a worker, those at fault should be held responsible. The New York County District Attorney’s office wholeheartedly agrees with that, as they recently convicted the foreman of an excavation company for the death of another worker. According to the press release, Wilmer Cueva, the foreman of Sky Materials, an excavation subcontractor, was convicted of Criminally Negligent Homicide and Reckless Endangerment. His sentencing is expected to take place on December 15, 2016.
On the day of the trench collapse, an on-site inspector alerted Cueva that the trench, was at the time was 7 feet deep, was unprotected. Almost an hour later, the trench had reached 13 feet in depth, and, despite the inspectors request to have the worker’s removed from the trench, Cueva refused and the work continued. An hour and 15 minutes later, the trench collapsed, crushing and killing a 22-year-old-worker.
“When construction supervisors take shortcuts, they take chances with their workers’ lives,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. “As proven at trial, Wilmer Cueva ignored repeated warnings about the treacherous state of the excavations he was directing — resulting in the preventable and foreseeable death of Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old worker. Today’s verdict again places companies and managers on notice: those who knowingly permit unsafe construction practices will face criminal charges if a worker is injured or dies as a result. I thank the jury for its careful deliberation, and our partners at the Department of Investigation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and NYPD for their invaluable assistance with the investigation.”
Harco Construction, the General Contractor on the site was also convicted of Manslaughter in the Second Degree, as well as Criminally Negligent Homicide and Reckless Endangerment in June of this year. They were sentenced in July to pay for worker-safety public service announcements, according to DNAinfo. The maximum sentencing the company could receive was a $35,000 fine or pay for the PSAs, but not both.
Tool box safety talks are super important, but sometimes they can be pretty dry. In order to keep people engaged and committed to jobsite safety, sometimes you have to mix it up a little bit. A construction company in New Zealand has an aspiring rapper on their team and they decided to enlist his help for a safety talk and it’s pretty entertaining. This company isn’t the first company to use rap music to send a message, as Caterpillar also released a rap about their bulldozers.
Communication is key to a safe and productive construction environment. One of the biggest challenges of effective communication on job sites is the complexity and size of the project, which inhibits being able to contact the correct people in a timely manner. Tracking devices have been a hot button issue in construction news for the last few years. Some examples include RFID tag sensors in hard hats, such as the one being used on certain job sites in Washington DC and time sheet applications, which allow employers to track their employee’s locations using the GPS on their phone’s or tablets.
Construction crews in Parma, Idaho were busy working onmulti-story onion shed, when the under construction structure collapsed, sending some that were on the roof down with it. 14 crew members were either on the structure or around it at the time of collapse, but 6 of them were transported to the hospital. First responders on the scene explained that it was lucky that only 6 were injured.
For decades, hard hats have been synonymous with construction job site safety. Their one major flaw, however, is that if workers fall, the hard hat rarely stays on their head, exposing them to possible head injuries resulting from the fall. According to Bloomberg News, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched research campaign to determine their effectiveness in protecting against head and neck injuries. Their findings have not yet been released, but companies have begun to seek out new products, in hopes of reducing injuries.
You may remember a story we shared at the end of June about a rescue of a construction worker who was dangling from a suspended scaffold 15 stories in the air. The Sarasota County Fire Department completed a very skilled rescue, in which one firefighter scaled down the side of the building to the trapped worker, attached him to a harness, and both men were hoisted back up to the roof. The cause of that failure was a snapped line. At that time, the fire chief mentioned that he rarely sees events like this and that only 5 or 6 rescues like this have happened in his 29 year career.
OSHA currently controls over 20 laws that protect workers who file safety complaints against their employer or other employees. In general, whistleblowers are protected against retaliation from their employer.
In January of this year, tragedy struck a Florida construction company when 3 construction workers died while working underground below a newly paved road. After the first worker entered the hole and collapsed after entering the confined space through a manhole, the second went in to rescue him and also collapsed, followed by the third. After a post-incident investigation, OSHA has released their findings, as well as several fines.
In late June, OSHA pushed the enforcement of their 2016 rule which will require employers to electronically submit injury and illness reports from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017. At that time it was unknown when the administration would launch the platform to submit the data online, but that has now been decided.
In January of 2017, OSHA released a final rule which greatly reduced the allowable exposure to beryllium, a mineral that can cause deadly lung disease. While not as commonly encountered in the construction industry as other substances that cause terrible lung diseases, like crystalline silica and asbestos, beryllium is linked to a disease called chronic beryllium disease, which kills around 100 people each year. It’s commonly found in coal slag, which is used for sandblasting. According to the New York Times, OSHA estimates that 11,500 construction workers would be affected by OSHA’s reduced exposure limit.
As recently highlighted by several multi-story building fires, contractors should always be prepared in the event a fire starts on a job site. There have been dozens multi-story building fires in the past few years and many were started when the building was topped out. In most cases, the project was completely destroyed, leaving developers and owners to deal with years of delays from insurance claims. A massive five-alarm fire at an Oakland construction site is one of the more recent examples.