Deadly Construction Site Accident Highlights Risks of Negligent Safety Approaches

On September 28th, 2023, a 25-year-old San Francisco utility worker tragically died after a trench collapsed on them during routine operations. 

According to reports, the victim was working on a streetside utility construction project alongside Oak Street in San Francisco when the site collapsed around him. The collapse buried him under as much as ten feet of dirt and concrete. It took 50 firefighters and rescue workers two hours to reach the bottom of the trench and determine that the operation was a recovery rather than a rescue. 

The victim was employed by a private contractor hired by the city. The trench was part of a greater sewer upgrade project, a routine type of renovation that normally occurs without incident. While the cause of the collapse is undetermined, it is currently being investigated by state agencies, including Cal/OSHA, responsible for enforcing workplace safety regulations. If it is found that the contractor for which the victim worked failed to follow standard safety requirements, it may face legal consequences from both the state and the victim’s surviving family

Any accidental death is tragic, but those caused by neglected safety standards are particularly heartwrenching because they were entirely avoidable. Standards like those set by Cal/OSHA are in place because they have been found to protect people from harm reliably. When construction companies fail to meet these standards, they willingly put lives at risk to save time or money. It’s not just their employees who are in danger, either – negligent worksite safety may threaten site visitors and even people who just happen to be nearby. 

OSHA Regulations Protect Everyone

OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal and state agencies responsible for ensuring workers have safe and healthy working conditions. Among the many industries OSHA and Cal/OSHA regulate is the construction industry. Construction includes erecting new structures, renovating existing buildings, demolishing unneeded structures, and maintaining and repairing private and public infrastructure. 

The primary goal of OSHA regulations is to protect workers. However, because construction is so dangerous, many of the regulations these agencies enforce protect more than just the employees on-site. They also keep people near these sites safe by preventing potential large-scale disasters. 

Risks of Construction Site Negligence

OSHA and Cal/OSHA sometimes cause complaints by construction companies and worksite managers. They argue that safety regulations are too strict, cost too much, and take too much time. They claim they can get things done safely and well without these agencies’ strict oversight. This attitude often leads companies to cut corners on safety requirements. That’s when tragic accidents happen, like the utility trench collapse. 

There are many types of accidents in construction that may be caused by negligence. Some of the most serious issues that could affect visitors or bystanders include:

  • Trench and building failures: The San Francisco accident is just one example of a nationwide rise in trench and building collapses. If contractors fail to follow basic construction standards for excavation and trench safety, these collapses can affect workers, site visitors, and even people offsite nearby, depending on the extent of the failure. 
  • Crane collapses: Cranes and other mega-machines seriously threaten their surroundings if not set up and maintained appropriately. A tower crane can be over 200 feet tall, nearly the length of a city block. If one should fall, it could easily take out other structures on its way down and injure or kill the occupants. 
  • Gas and chemical leaks: Many forms of construction involve the use or containment of hazardous substances. If proper safety procedures aren’t followed, these substances leak and contaminate the air or water surrounding the site. 
  • Fires and explosions: Electrical and gas lines, power tools, heavy equipment, and dust and debris pose fire risks on construction sites. If these items aren’t handled correctly, major fires and explosions may damage not just the site but a significant area around it. 
  • Vehicle accidents: Many worksites have heavy machinery and other vehicles frequently entering and leaving the area. If these vehicles aren’t secured and driven with care, they can cause injuries to anyone nearby. 
  • Falling debris: High-rise, overpass, and communication tower construction require workers to use heavy equipment far off the ground. Tools and materials can fall and hit people if they aren’t secured. 

Your Options After a Construction Site Accident

Construction contractors have a legal obligation to follow national, state, and local building codes and OSHA safety regulations. If they fail to do so and someone gets hurt, they may be liable for the injuries they caused. 

If you’ve been injured in a construction site accident, you have the right to hold the contractor accountable. If you were a visitor or bystander, you could file a civil lawsuit to pursue compensation for your losses. 

The best way to support your case is to work with a skilled personal injury attorney with experience in construction site accidents. Your attorney will help you:

  • Identify who may be liable for your injuries, such as the contractor or subcontractor, the property owner, the architect or engineer, or the manufacturer of equipment or materials.
  • Collect evidence of the harm you’ve suffered, such as medical reports, hospital bills, and proof of lost wages. 
  • Prove that the contractor or other liable parties neglected basic safety standards such as securing the worksite or setting up the equipment properly.

At Fiore Achermann, we understand how your losses affect your daily life. We are dedicated to fighting for what’s right for our clients. We can help you pursue justice and hold negligent construction companies accountable for causing your accident. Get in touch today to schedule your free consultation with our California personal injury attorneys to learn more about how we can help you.