Tragedy struck Wednesday, September 12th when a retaining wall above a trench at a construction site collapsed, leaving one worker trapped under the debris. Despite extensive rescue efforts, the search had to be postponed due to rain before they were able to locate the worker, and the FDNY is now characterizing the operation as a recovery, rather than a rescue.
This accident occurred near 39th St. and Seventh Ave. in Sunset Park, Brooklyn as workers in a trench “were apparently clearing a foundation below,” according to ABC7NY. Six workers were initially caught in the collapse and five were able to escape, but Luis Almonte, a 47-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic, is still buried somewhere in the rubble.
Once the collapse occurred, emergency services quickly descended on the scene. Dogs were called in to search for the worker amongst the rubble, and a Con Edison vacuum truck was also used to try and help remove debris. Authorities also used small cameras and listening devices to search for signs of life, to no avail.
NYPD Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez of the 72nd Precinct told the NY Daily News, “All the guys, ESU (Emergency Services Unit), FDNY, the police officers, all digging with their bare hands, looking for some signs of life.”
Sadly, the rescue effort was slowed down and eventually called off due to heavy rain after the Office of Emergency Management determined that there was possibility for further collapse at the site. Over Twitter, FDNY said that “[t]he incident is transitioning from a rescue to a recovery.”
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved and affected by this tragic event, which unfortunately may have been avoidable.
Winnie Vo, who lives in an adjacent property to the construction site, told the NY Daily News that the day before the collapse, “I went to water the garden and noticed a crack in the wall that was about six feet long.” Vo indicated that digging at this site has been ongoing for weeks.
The construction site was being worked by two contractors: Ground to Sky City Builders Corp in Yonkers, and WSC Group LLC in Brooklyn. As of this writing, neither has released a statement on this incident.
Inspectors from the Department of Buildings are investigating the cause of the collapse.
OSHA mandate that trenches need to be inspected every day by a competent person who has the training and expertise to recognize when a collapse may be forthcoming. It is too early to say whether or not this inspection happened and missed potential warning signs, or if the duty to inspect trenches daily was neglected entirely.
OSHA also requires some type of bracing or shoring system to help prevent the walls of a trench from collapsing, for any trench that is deeper than 5 feet. It is understood, however, that rain can cause trench collapses by making dirt heavier, possibly causing it to shift and compromising the structural integrity of the trench. This will certainly be an issue that DOB inspectors look at closely.
All construction workers are owed a safe place to do their jobs. When the contractor, foreman or safety supervisor of a construction site does not take all necessary precautions to provide a safe work site, tragedies such as this can be the result.
The New York Labor Law is also designed to prevent incidents of this nature, when proper steps are not taken to prevent collapses of buildings or structures. If you or a loved one has been impacted by the negligence of the people entrusted to keep our construction workers safe, reach out to the experienced construction accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy for compassionate legal guidance in the wake of a tragedy. Our firm specializes in helping victims of demolition and construction site accidents, and our lawyers fight to keep New York’s worker safety laws as strong as possible in order to hold contractors responsible and prevent future incidents like this one from occurring. A free, no-obligation legal consultation is available simply by calling 212-736-5300.
*note: early news reports misidentified the deceased man – this has since been corrected