Two men working on the water system of a residential building in the South End were tragically killed when the trench they were working in was suddenly filled with water and they were unable to escape. It’s not clear what exactly happened, but it’s suspected that a fire hydrant collapsed or a water main broke, causing a massive amount of water to flood into the hole they were working in.
One witness described the speed of the flooding as “like white water rafting.” A photo of the street taken shortly after the accident shows a large portion of the intersection, at Dartmouth and Tremont, under several inches of water.
Reports suggest that there were more than two men working in the hole, which was said to be at least twelve feet deep, but that at least one was able to escape without serious injury. It seems likely that there was more involved in the accident than a flooding problem. A Boston Fire Department chief referred to a trench collapse, which indicates that it’s possible the men were trapped by falling material from the sides of the trench during the flooding.
Documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the government agency tasked with protecting workers from dangerous conditions, revealed that the company doing the work at that site had numerous previous safety violations over the past several years, including one situation that seems a disturbing echo of this collapse. In that case, an OSHA inspector noted that a worker was in a trench more than nine feet deep with no cave-in protection and fined the company for more than $30,000.
Construction workers of all kind are still exposed to injury and potentially fatal accidents at a rate higher than most other workers. In fact, about one in five workplace deaths in 2014 happened to a worker in the building trades.
Workers in the Boston area are not exempt from these risks. In September, there were at least two other constructions fatalities nearby, one in Boston, where a worker was killed while disassembling a crane at a worksite in the Longwood Medical Area, and another in an accident involving an excavator in Georgetown. In 2013, the last year with published data, fifty-seven workers died on the job in Massachusetts, nearly one-quarter of them while working in construction.
Trenches and other excavations are a particular cause of concern, and are included in the category of “Caught-In/Between” which has been ranked among the “fatal four” causes of construction deaths. OSHA has published a guide specific to trench and excavation safety to encourage best practices in these work situations, including recommended depths and wall angles for different types of work.
If you or someone close to you has been injured in a construction accident, you should discuss your situation with an experienced attorney. If unsafe working conditions were involved, or if someone other than the injured party’s employer was responsible, there may be avenues open to collect damages and expenses above and beyond what workers compensation will provide.
At Joel H. Schwartz, PC, we understand construction site accidents, and we’re here to help you. Call us today at 1-800-660-2270 or contact us through our online form below to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation.