More than a year after a man was killed when he was buried alive because the trench he was working in collapsed, a New York Supreme Court Judge in Manhattan found Harco Construction company guilty of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. In addition, the company was also found guilty of reckless endangerment. The sentencing hearing for this case is set for July 13th, 2016. Construction workers throughout the state have applauded the verdict and many hope that it will bring attention to the growing number of construction accidents and the need for strict consequences for those whose negligence results in injuries to workers.
A History Of Safety Violations
The head of Harco Construction, Kenneth Hart, has a history of overseeing job sites that are filled with safety hazards. In 2015, the Department of Buildings (DOB) reported that they had revoked his DOB license after it was found that he had been cited for over 30 safety violations in two years. In fact, a total of eight work sites were deemed “immediately hazardous”.
Shockingly, his license was only revoked for one month, during which the company was unable to perform any work within the NYC city limits. The DOB then restored his license under a 5-month probation period.
Shortly after his license was restored, the company was hired to oversee and manage the site on which the trench was being dug. Included in their responsibilities was making sure that all safety regulations created by OSHA were followed.
A Preventable Death
The man whose death the judge found the company responsible for was working in a trench when a random inspection by the DOB found that it was not properly fortified and that it was not safe enough for anyone to be in. The inspector informed the contractor and manager of the site that all employees should be immediately removed from the trench until safety corrections were made. The inspector also informed the workers who were currently digging but they ignored him.
The men in charge didn’t order their employees to leave the trench until hours later – only moments before it caved in. The victim was completely covered in dirt and the weight of it caused him to suffocate.
The reality is, that if the managers and employer had taken the appropriate steps to create a safe environment, the employee wouldn’t have died. What makes it even worse is that they had the opportunity – hours even – to get their employees out of the trench but decided that the work was more important than the safety of their employees.
In response to the verdict, the victim’s mother has declared that “justice has prevailed”.
Worker’s Safety Under Threat
Sadly, this story isn’t unique. Over and over, contractors, owners, and managers fail to provide the correct safety equipment and enforce the correct safety standard for their workers in order to save themselves time and money. According to OSHA, the top 10 safety violations include:
- Failure to provide fall protection.
- Hazard communication standard.
- Scaffolding violations.
- Failure to provide respiratory protection.
- Failure to control hazardous energy.
- Hazards with trucks.
- Ladder safety issues.
- Electrical hazards.
- Failure to install machine guards and other safety measures on machinery.
- Incorrect electrical system design.
While the administration may issue citations, fine, and even shut down a worksite until all safety issues have been corrected, those who are in charge often make temporary fixes in order to pass inspection and then revert to their old ways.
Until recently, very few have been held responsible for the injuries and deaths that resulted due to a failure to follow safety standards. Many are applauding the verdict, saying that if the party responsible for safety was held liable more frequently, fewer accidents would occur on construction sites throughout New York.