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Excavation and Trenching Accidents on New York Construction Sites


Construction workers face countless hazards on a daily basis. While many work above the ground at elevated heights, others spend their time working below ground — in tunnels or trenches. Although all construction operations involve risk, excavation and trenching are significantly more dangerous activities than many other types of work performed on construction sites. Significantly, OSHA data shows that the fatality rate for those involved in excavations is 112% higher than in general construction work. 

Many excavation and trenching accidents may be preventable if proper safety measures are in place at the job site. Unfortunately, some contractors or site owners fail to identify risks, take specific precautions, or implement necessary corrective measures, giving rise to the potential for tragic and devastating accidents. If you suffered from construction injuries or lost a loved one due to the negligence of a third-party involved with an excavation project, you may be able to hold the responsible party accountable for negligence in a personal injury action. 

Causes of Trenching and Excavation Accidents

OSHA defines an excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal.” Due to the inherent nature of this type of work, there are numerous dangers involved. However, according to OSHA, the most significant hazard associated with excavation operations leading to worker injury are cave-ins.

To prevent the risk of collapses during excavation projects, OSHA guidelines require that trenches more than five feet in depth have specific protective systems to prevent accidents from occurring. Additionally, trenches that are twenty-feet deep or more must have protective systems in place that have been designed by a registered professional engineer. OSHA also mandates that trenches should be inspected daily by someone who can identify any existing or foreseeable hazards. If such conditions are present, they should be immediately remedied.           

Trenching and excavation accidents can also occur due to the following risks and occurrences:    

  • Lack of wall support 
  • Inadequate inspections 
  • Unsafe access or egress
  • Toxic fumes
  • Flooding
  • Defective machinery
  • Power line or natural gas hazards
  • Falls or falling objects
  • Proximity to traffic
  • Atmospheric hazards

In addition to adhering to federal OSHA guidelines, contractors and owners in New York must also comply with state laws governing excavation work, including New York Labor Law § 241 and New York Industrial Code Part 23. Those who fail to do so may be held liable for negligence for any injuries that arise as a result.      

Compensation for Excavation or Trenching Accident Injuries

Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the excavation accident, a construction worker may suffer from various injuries such as asphyxiation, crush injuries, electrocution, concussion, broken bones, or fatality.   

Under New York State Workers’ Compensation laws, construction workers generally cannot sue their employer for negligence if they sustain an injury during excavation. However, many parties are often involved in excavation and trenching projects, including general contractors, sub-contractors, architects, engineers, and others. Although a construction worker generally can’t commence an action against their employer, a lawsuit may be filed against a third-party who may be responsible for their accident-related injuries based upon their failure to take the necessary safety precautions. 

While Workers’ Compensation covers construction accident-related medical expenses and a certain amount of a worker’s lost wages, this may not be enough to adequately compensate you for the time you lost from work or all of your medical costs. By filing a personal injury action, you may be able to recover economic damages such as unreimbursed medical expenses, future medical expenses, and lost earnings. Additionally, you may be able to receive compensation for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other non-economic damages.    

Families who have lost loved ones due to construction site accidents may also be entitled to compensation. In addition to Workers’ Compensation death benefits, the spouse and dependents of a construction worker who passed away due to a fatal excavation accident may be entitled to file a wrongful death action to recover for their economic damages.    

Contact a New York City Construction Accident Attorney

If you suffered injuries in a New York excavation accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. An experienced construction accident attorney can advise you of your legal rights and remedies and help you recover your economic and non-economic damages. The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has extensive experience helping injured construction workers obtain the maximum compensation they deserve.  

The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has convenient office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, as well as mobile locations serving Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, Rockland County, and on Long Island in Nassau County and Suffolk County. Contact us for a consultation.