Two workers were fatally injured at John F. Kennedy International Airport when they were trapped under rubble in a trench collapse incident.
The deadly construction accident comes just weeks after the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) released a report showing construction industry fatalities increased 54% in New York City and 49% in New York State from 2020 – 2021. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data indicates that trench collapse worker deaths more than doubled over the same period.
Port Authority Investigating Deadly Trench Collapse
At around 11 a.m. on Monday, April 3 the Port Authority received a report of two workers caught in rubble inside a 30-foot trench outside a generator plant near Terminal 7 at JFK, where they were relocating utility lines. First responders performed an emergency rescue but both men were declared dead at the scene, reports Spectrum News NY1.
The Port Authority announced that a stop order for all construction at JFK was issued. FDNY sources said the workers “were in a trench and something fell on them.” The cause of the collapse is unknown. An investigation of the incident is ongoing.
Governor Kathy Hochul released a statement saying her thoughts were with the loved ones of the two people killed. They’ve been identified by the Port Authority as Fernando Lagunas Pereira, 28, and Francisco Reyes, 41.
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, whose district includes JFK, noted in her own statement that construction workplace deaths “have reached a recent five-year high, and this incident marks the second serious workplace incident to occur at JFK International Airport in the past month alone.”
NYCOSH Report Paints Dire Picture of Construction Safety
In February, NYCOSH released its annual report on construction fatalities in New York State. Deadly Skyline 2023, based on the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that New York’s construction industry remains highly dangerous, with worker deaths increasing from 41 to 61 statewide and from 13 to 20 in NYC.
Some of the highlights from Deadly Skyline include:
- NYC’s construction fatality rate rose 60% from 2020 – 2021, despite an industry slowdown during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Non-union job sites are particularly dangerous for construction workers. Eighty percent of the NYC construction workers who died in 2021 were non-union.
- Latino construction workers are disproportionately killed on New York construction sites. They make up around 10% of construction workers in the state, but in 2021, 25% of construction worker fatalities were among Latino workers—a 43% increase compared to 2020.
- Employers had OSHA violations 96% of the time on construction sites where workers died in 2021.
NYCOSH also made recommendations on how New York can make job sites safer for construction workers. The organization called for:
- Requiring construction safety training and certification for workers
- Preserving New York’s Scaffold Law
- Expanding criminal prosecution of contractors
- Utilizing the recently enacted Carlos’ Law to increase criminal construction contractor penalties
- Increasing OSHA hiring and funding
- Protecting Latino and immigrant construction workers from exploitation
Keeping with fatal construction accidents trends from the NYCOSH report, Francisco Reyes and Fernando Pereira, the two workers killed at JFK, were Latino. However, they were not non-union workers, as both belonged to Excavators Local 731, the organization said on its Twitter page. Because the airport is under federal jurisdiction and not subject to city regulations, Carlos’ Law will not apply to the men’s deaths.
OSHA Reports “Alarming Rise” in Trench-Related Fatalities
The NYCOSH report does not mention trench collapse fatalities. However, OSHA cited the “alarming rise” in this type of construction worker death in a 2022 news release.
OSHA said that, in the first six months of 2022, 22 workers died performing trenching and excavation work, surpassing all such deaths in 2021. By the end of the year, the number of trench-related deaths had risen to 39, reports the trade publication Construction Dive. That number is up from the 15 trench collapse deaths reported by OSHA the previous year and is the highest since at least 2017.
In response to this “alarming trend,” OSHA has launched enhanced enforcement initiatives to protect workers, saying that “Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards.”
OSHA standards for trenching and excavation operations require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet and inspections prior to workers entering trenches. Trenches must also have a safe means for workers to enter and exit.
The name of the contractor that employed Reyes and Pereira has not yet been released. If OSHA safety violations are uncovered, the contractor could be referred for criminal prosecution. They could also be held civilly responsible by the dead workers’ families through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Learn Your Construction Accident Rights
Construction work is the most dangerous in New York City. But construction accidents are far from unavoidable. They often occur because contractors do not follow safety standards.
When corners are cut and construction workers are harmed as a result, New York law allows victims and their families to hold negligent parties accountable. But taking advantage of these legal protections may require help from an attorney.
The Sanders Law Firm has dedicated construction attorneys and staff available to answer your questions in multiple languages, including Spanish. For a free evaluation of your construction accident case call (855) SANDERS or contact us.