In 2014, 4,821 workers died while on the job, according to OSHA. While this is an improvement from the almost 14,000 workers who died every year before OSHA was established in 1971, it’s still far too high. And tragically, in some cases, employers are the ones who make mistakes that cost employees their lives.
Safety standards require employers to take every possible step to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and deaths. Nevertheless, construction site workers are in particularly high-risk situations.
Fatalities of Two Boston Workers
An example of this type of tragic death occurred on October 21, 2016, in Boston. There, two men working in a trench drowned as a result of a broken water line. The construction workers were making repairs to a trench estimated to have been between 12 and 15 feet deep. Witnesses to the accident say a water line burst suddenly, flooding the trench, and later the street, in a matter of minutes. The men had no chance of fighting against the powerful surge of water coming at them and perished in the trench. Limited information was available about the cause of the water line breaking.
The trench on Dartmouth Street spans 20 feet in length and 2 feet wide. At least two people working in the trench managed to escape it. The Boston Fire Department worked to clear the trench and pump water out, but their efforts were too late. It took the Boston Water and Sewer Commission some time to reach the scene to turn the water off.
As the water rushed through the trench, it caused the walls to fall inward, trapping workers in debris. Electric and gas lines were exposed. Firefighters could not enter the space until a trench box was created due to the weakness of the walls. Eventually, on hands and knees, they dug dirt away until they found the men.
A Record of Mistakes
Who is to blame? Atlantic Drain Service Co. was working on the trench as a part of a private construction project. More worrisome is that the company has a long string of safety violations that date back to 2012. In fact, OSHA charged the company with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of fines in that timeframe.
Could It Have Been Prevented?
Why did this happen in the first place? The Safety and Health Regulations for Construction from OSHA have hundreds of components. Each one provides very specific steps employers are to take to minimize risks on the job. A key component of this is ensuring workers cannot fall or be whisked away by water, much like what occurred in this incident in Boston.
Proper safety rules may have been violated in this incident. Those rules may have required the tethering of workers to structures to allow for easy removal in this tunnel-like environment in an emergency. Workers may not have had proper tools for the job, which could have led to the damage to the water line. Unfortunately, we don’t know just yet.
While the details of the underlying cause are not fully understood, it is clear not every step possible was taken to protect the workers in that trench.
OSHA violations should be taken seriously. Any violation or lack of following OSHA guidelines could put lives on the line. With the help of our Boston workers’ compensation attorney, we may be able to help pursue the maximum compensation for the families left behind in this type of tragic event. Contact our offices for a free consultation.