OSHA Upholds 2018 NY Trench Collapse Citations
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it would be upholding citations against a former New York contractor after a fatal trench collapse in Brooklyn in 2018.
“This settlement affirms OSHA's citations, which found that this employer knowingly failed to construct the trench protection system properly and did not use other safeguards that would have prevented a worker’s death in a cave-in. It also confirms that neither WSC Group LLC nor its owner will ever engage in construction work again,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson in New York.
In September 2018, rescue crews recovered the body of a worker after a retaining wall collapsed at a Brooklyn construction site.
Officials said at the time that six construction workers were digging about 30 feet below street level at the site of a one-story building, preparing to lay the foundation for a new manufacturing and health care facility.
At around 1:45 p.m., the workers were using an excavator when a wall partially collapsed. One man, Luis Almonte, 47, was trapped. Search dogs were brought to the scene, as well as several listening devices and drones, to help find the man to no avail. The weather also hindered the operation, as crews eventually had to break because the area became too unstable.
By around 5 p.m. on Sept. 12, the mission changed from rescue to recovery, and Almonte’s body was found the following day. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The property was owned by 348 37th St. LLC, according to The Real Deal, and two contractors were listed on the project: Ground to Sky City Builders Corp. and WSC Group LLC.
Neither company had a history of violations with OSHA, and the Department of Buildings said that active permits were in order for the site, which showed that the existing single-story building was to become a four-story facility.
In March 2019, OSHA reportedly found that WSC Group LLC willfully failed to provide an adequate protective system for employees working in a trench, and exposed them to other serious excavation hazards.
The company then contested OSHA's citations before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The commission case was paused while the Kings County District Attorney’s office pursued a criminal case that led to the conviction of WSC company owner Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu for criminally negligent homicide and other charges in March of this year.
According to the press release, an administrative law judge has issued an order concluding the commission case, following the execution of a civil settlement between the department and WSC Group that upholds the citations. Additionally, it requires the company to pay $50,000 in penalties for the violations.
In the settlement, the employer states it has ceased operations and will not perform any future construction work. Liu will also reportedly not own, operate, supervise or manage any company performing construction work.
The judge's order terminating the case was sent to the commission on July 21, 2023, and became a final order on Aug. 21, 2023.
“The outcome in this investigation should remind all employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will pursue all available legal remedies and work cooperatively with other agencies to enforce laws designed to protect workers,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York.
New York Construction Fatalities
Earlier this year, in April, the New York City Department of Buildings released its annual New York City Construction Safety Report, providing an analysis of building construction safety trends in 2022.
The annual report provides an overview of Department-collected data to increase transparency within the construction industry, while highlighting the importance of safety regulations in the City’s Construction Codes.
The 2022 report shows increased building construction activity over the previous two years throughout the city, which then correlated with modest increases in worker incidents, injuries and fatalities.
According to the information reported by the DOB, building construction-related incidents in New York City are up for the second straight year, increasing 9.7% compared to 2021. The DOB reports that 554 injuries occurred in 2022; however, this is significantly lower than the 759 worker injuries that occurred in 2018 where there was a peak in injury data.
The number of injured workers on building construction sites represents less than 1% of the total number of building construction workers in the city, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands, working on close to 40,000 work sites across the city.
The department notes that the 2022 numbers illustrate that while construction fatalities can happen on worksites of any size, most fatalities occurred on larger and more complex projects that are required under city regulations to meet additional site safety requirements. As a result, the DOB reportedly conducted 55% more unannounced monitoring inspections on these larger sites in 2022 than in 2021.
The main driver of worker fatalities and injuries on building construction sites continued to be falls. Falls were also the top violation on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards for fiscal year 2022.
The full report can be found here.