A recent accident on Manhattan’s Lower East Side illustrates the dangers of working in trenches. According to media sources, worker was injured when the sidewall of a trench collapsed, leaving the man buried under several feet of sand and gravel.
The incident occurred at Seward Park Co-operative, located at 413 Grand Street.
After the trench collapsed, co-workers scooped out the sand with their bare hands, freeing the man’s head and torso and making it possible for him to breathe again. However, it required emergency medical personnel who specialize in rescues from confined spaces to remove the worker from the trench. Con Ed was called in to vacuum away the surrounding soil so the man could be extracted safely.
The worker, who sustained injuries to his chest, hips, arms and legs, is expected to recover, according to media sources.
The FDNY assistant chief noted that when the sides of a trench collapse, the dirt falls at 40 miles per hour. This makes it impossible for anyone to outrun an avalanche of dirt.
Although this worker is expected to recover, many victims of trenching accidents are not so lucky. According to statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), excavation and trench work is one of the most dangerous construction jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these types of accidents resulted in the deaths of 271 workers between 2000 and 2006. Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NYOSH) found that trenching and excavation accidents killed 488 workers between 1992 and 2000; this is an average of 54 deaths per year. There is no indication that the statics from earlier years are changing. For example, Last November, this blog reported the death of a construction worker in a trench accident on Long Island last November.
Because of the large number of trench accidents, NIOSH and other agencies have released numerous guidelines and standards for making trench work safer. However, contractors continue to cut corners and do not spend the time needed to insure the safety of trenches on a worksite. Although the cause of the recent accident on the Lower East Side has not been determined, it is very possible that the cave-in was caused by a failure to properly shore up the sides of the trench, a common cause of trenching accidents.