Three years ago, supervisors at Atlantic Drain Services ordered their workers to go into a trench that was not safe. The results were disastrous. Two men were killed when the trench collapsed and they were trapped waist-high in dirt. As rescuers tried to get them out, the worst possible thing happened: a nearby fire hydrant broke and flooded the trench. The men drowned instantly in this terrible accident.
Accidents Far Too Common
Though very sad and a terrible loss of life, the truth is that many construction companies send workers into potentially dangerous situations like this every day. One of the most common reasons for construction accidents is old scaffolding that collapses with men up as high as 20 or 30 feet. Each year, roofers are injured because the harnessing they’re wearing is simply old and frayed.
Whether it’s a matter of construction companies not wanting to spend money on good quality equipment or sheer negligence, the loss of life, as well as injuries, could be prevented in most cases.
When working in trenches, the danger of cave-in is always very real. Just one cubic yard of dirt weighs as much 3,000 pounds. As the workers dig down, they’re required to use specific measures to shore up the sides. OSHA regulations do require that strong walls be built to hold the dirt back. It can be time-consuming and expensive to do the job right. In this case, the lack of following those regulations resulted in a catastrophe.
Two workers, Higgins and Mattacks, employees of Atlantic Drain, were killed on Oct. 21, 2016. Atlantic Drain tried to say that the accident occurred because the city wasn’t maintaining their fire hydrants properly. But a judge ruled otherwise.
Not an Accident
Judge Mitchell Kaplan found that Atlantic Drain “knowingly and willfully” placed victims, Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks in harm’s way by not utilizing the correct cave-in protection procedures.
Kaplan, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge ruled that Kevin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain provided false documentation and lied under oath. He was convicted of two counts of manslaughter and sentenced to three years of probation for each count, to be served concurrently. He was also ordered to never work in the construction industry again.
Atlantic Drain, which is now defunct, received 18 safety violations from OSHA and a $1.5 million fine for their negligence. The company had received citations for similar violations in 2007 and 2012.
The collapse highlighted the dangers of excavation work, causing the city of Boston to begin changing the way they issue construction permits. With the new changes, the permit process will take into consideration any past safety violations. If a company repeatedly ignores safety regulations that result in fines, their permits can be denied. OSHA is now demanding safety records from construction companies. This should make it harder for those who ignore safety regulations to do business. And it hopefully, will curb the rise in construction accidents.