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.