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Construction Accident Reveals Need for Trenching Safety

A recent Queens shoring accident illustrates the need for the safety requirements designed to prevent construction accidents in trenches and other excavations. Firefighters and other rescue personnel struggled for two hours to release a worker stuck in the mud in a 25-foot trench in Kew Gardens at 83rd Avenue. The accident occurred around 5 PM.

The site has a history of safety violations. The New York City Department of Buildings reports four open citations that include failing to provide proper shoring of trenches and failure to install guard rails and fall protection. A stop-work order had been issued, but that did not appear to halt work. Neighbors have been complaining about the site for months, according to witnesses at the scene.

In order to extricate the fallen worker, more than 100 rescuers had to dig around him in order to pull him out. The FDNY fire chief, Richard Portello, said, "You have to get the bottom of his shoes out before you can lift him."

The worker was rushed to the hospital in Jamaica at around 7 PM, where he was listed in stable condition.

Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the NYC Department of Buildings regulate the way excavations and trenches must be shored up to prevent collapse and cave-ins. Most serious trenching accident injuries and fatalities occur on small projects, according to the Department of Buildings.

Facts about shoring and trenching construction accidents include:

  • Most accidents occur in trenches five to 14 feet deep
  • Most collapses occur without warning
  • Secondary collapses are common
  • Rescue workers are vulnerable and can often become victims of shoring accidents themselves

Both the NYC Building Code and OSHA have detailed instructions about preventing trenching and shoring accidents like the recent incident in Queens.

Sources: New York Daily News, "Dramatic rescue in Queens as firefighters pull fallen construction worker from 25-foot trench," Jun. 19, 2013; NYC Buildings, "Excavating & Trenching Safety."