Sandhogs: Vital to NYC’s Construction, Growth and Expansion

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The Sandhogs are synonomous with New York City. Sandhogs are rightfully credited with shaping the biggest, most expansive city in the world. You just may not see their work as often as you see that of other construction workers.

In today’s modern world, construction projects reach soaring heights, particularly in New York City. We, as lay people, tend to think of construction sites as largely taking place at projects situated above-ground, like on our streets, buildings and skyscrapers. While this is certainly true, it’s important to remember that large scale, extremely intricate and vital construction projects are constantly taking place far below the streets of our city. It is the ‘Sandhogs’ that make that dangerous journey below and are largely responsible for the growth and expansion of New York City’s infrastructure and transportation hubs.

Local 147, better known as the “Sandhogs”, are part of the Laborer’s International Union of North America (LIUNA). LIUNA is the most progressive and fastest growing unions of construction workers. Members of local 147, the Sandhogs, are Tunnel Diggers and can be found working on major projects throughout New York City. The history of the NYC Sandhogs dates back to the 1870’s and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The name Sandhog derives from the men who excavated soft earth in building the underwater caissons for the famed Brooklyn bridge. Local 147 was formed some 30 years later, in 1906, and has been integral to every subterranean public-works projects since. The Sandhogs have worked on projects starting with the Brooklyn Bridge, Lincoln, Holland, Queens-Midtown, and Brooklyn Battery Tunnels, along with most of New York City’s subways, waterways and sewers. Yet in all that time, the Sandhogs have never experienced the amount of work that they currently have over the past few years. Along with the Second Avenue subway, there is also the East Side Access project, which will connect the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal; the westward extension of the 7 train; City Water Tunnel No. 3 and the Croton Filtration Plant; the renovated South Ferry Station; and the new Fulton Street Transit Center in downtown Brooklyn. In the weeks prior to 9/11 only 12 of Local 147’s roughly 600 members had work. Today, the Union is around 2,000 strong, with well more than half enjoying consistent employment throughout the recent boom. New York is better for it.

With all this work comes the inherent risks for these workers as well. Since the work began on the massive Third Water Tunnel Project in 1970 24 Sandhogs have died. In 2009 at the Croton Filtration Plant site a 59 year old Sandhog was helping to guide the back rigging of the tunnel-boring machine when it suddenly swung and sent him falling backwards into a 20 foot pit causing significant injuries. In November of 2011 a NYC Sandhog was killed in a LIRR tunnel 120 feet below Grand Central Terminal when a several hundred pound chunk of concrete was caused to fall striking the worker on the head. At the time of the incident the young worker was performing a procedure called shotcreting, a technique in which cement is shot from a hose to cover exposed rock. It was believed that in this case the cement may have been applied too heavily, causing the 8 inch thick, 4-square foot long chunk to break off.

Due to the use of hazardous materials, heavy machinery, the locations of the work performed, and the nature of the industry, Sandhogs and other types of construction workers are exposed to great dangers on construction sites. Some construction accidents are caused by defective materials, lack of safety equipment, badly maintained equipment, lack of quality supervision, lack of safety training, and violations of safety regulations. Regardless of the cause, when these workers are injured it is usually catastrophic. Every day a ‘Sandhog’ leaves his home for work, the worker and his family hope for the best but are well aware of the perils that await them.

When contractors or owners of these construction sites fail to take the necessary precautions to make sure the construction site is safe for their workers, they may be held liable for any injuries that result.

If you, a loved one, or a friend were involved in a construction accident, contact the attorneys Block O’Toole & Murphy, LLP at 212-736-5300 for a free consultation.


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