Williamsburg Worker Trapped in Trench

Thursday, July 20th, 2023

On Tuesday, July 18 at 9:45 AM, a man working on a six-story new residential building project on Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was trapped up to his waist under thousands of pounds of dirt that collapsed, stopping at least three feet high. According to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), the residential building project is in its excavation phase, and the plumber was working to dig out at least eight feet of soil in order to access a foundation wall where he needed to install piping. While the plumber underwent his work in the trench, the soil collapsed, solidly pinning him against a foundation wall. According to ABC7 reporter N.J. Burkett, the FDNY was on the scene in about three minutes, but it took about 60 firefighters to rescue the victim. The worker sustained “serious but non-life-threatening injuries,” according to EMS Division Chief Mark Bonilla, and has been taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he is stable but in critical condition.

FDNY Battalion Chief John Sarrocco dispatched rescue units, EMS Special Operations Medics, and enlisted the help of ConEdison to free the victim in about 45 minutes. “We supported the trench with some wood cribbing, tied the victim off with a harness from a high-point anchor, and we started to work on extricating him from the hole,” he said at a press conference. “We also sent a rescue medic into the trench to offer critical care that the victim needed.” ConEdison utilized its special vacuum truck on the scene, which helped to remove the tightly-packed debris, allowing the FDNY to free the victim from the trench quickly—a difficult task considering the delicate circumstances. As Burkett noted in his live broadcast, the rescue team had to exercise extreme caution so as not to injure the victim further.

Unfortunately, construction site accidents happen frequently—especially in a robust metropolis like New York—but trench accidents and collapses, specifically, are less common. When trench accidents do occur, they can be deadly. A cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car, so workers caught in a trench collapse face a high risk of crush injuries, asphyxiation, or even death. Having been caught under thousands of pounds of soil, the Flushing Avenue trench victim is lucky to be alive. Construction employers are responsible for inspecting trench sites daily and implementing the appropriate safety measures to prevent devastating on-the-job injuries. Currently, the New York City DOB has issued a partial stop work order at the Flushing Avenue site as a result of the collapse, according to ABC7. Additionally, the DOB issued summonses to the general contractor for: supported pipe scaffolding not maintained per code, failure to obtain an electrical permit for temporary electrical work, and failure to notify for Earthwork operation. And, in addition to the general contractor, the DOB issued a summons to the plumbing sub contractor “for failure to provide protection for the excavation operation,” as reported by ABC7.

We at Block O’Toole & Murphy wish the victim a speedy recovery and send well wishes to him and his family. We applaud the fast and creative rescue methods of the FDNY and ConEdison, which likely saved the victim’s life. Our team of construction accident attorneys is experienced in New York Labor Laws regarding trench-related incidents and has secured millions of dollars for victims of trench accidents, including:

  • $5,500,000 settlement after a Nassau County construction worker was caught in between the excavator digging the trench and metal sheeting being used to form its perimeter
  • $4,250,000 settlement where a laborer was injured after he was knocked to the bottom of a 12-foot trench by a stack of wooden shoring planks in Brooklyn
  • $3,075,000 awarded to a Queens worker who suffered serious neck and back injuries after gravel was dropped into the trench he was working in
  • $2,100,000 settlement in a Queens case for a laborer who suffered serious foot and spine injuries when the walls of the trench he was working in collapsed, burying him up to his waist

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