Construction Cave-Ins Kill
Deadly cave-ins should not happen on construction sites. So why do they?
An overhead view of the ramshackle non-union worksite where a wall collapse took the life of one construction worker. -- Paul Martinka for the NYPost
Cave-ins should not happen on construction sites.
But they do, and they only happen on non-union job sites. That’s according to a New York City site inspector, who spoke to Union-Built Matters under condition of anonymity because they inspect both union and non-union work and they did not want to create animosity on future inspections.
The inspector said, “Managing loads is something every big construction project needs to deal with, whether it’s debris from a demo or building materials that have to be staged. These materials are very, very heavy. So where you put stuff and how you secure it safely is construction 101. I have issued many citations for the improper management of weight and they’re pretty much always on job sites managed by non-union contractors.”
This conversation occurred after another wall collapse on a non-union job site took the life of another construction worker. The March 7 cave-in happened on Lafayette Street in Manhattan on an RJB Construction site that had safety violations on the books for overloading the first floor of the building with 50 tons of material. The Department of Buildings says that particular violation had been corrected by the builder, yet days later a wall collapsed and buried a worker who died at Bellevue Hospital.
"I have issued many citations for the improper management of weight and they’re pretty much always on job sites managed by non-union contractors.”
Emergency Medical Technicians put an injured worker into an ambulance at the scene of the wall collapse. The job site had several outstanding Department of Building violations at the time of the event. -- New York Post video still
While falls from buildings and scaffolding are the most common cause of death on construction sites — again, these are accidents that occur almost exclusively on non-union job sites — cave-ins are an all too common cause of death. According to the inspector, “they’re almost always completely preventable.”
Here’s a short list of some of the men working on sites managed by non-union contractors who died underneath collapsing materials. Experts have deemed every one of these deaths to have been avoidable.
In 2015 Carlos Moncayo was sent to work in a 13-foot underground pit that did not have the required wall-shoring retainers in place. On that very day the work site had been cited for this violation. The issue had not been corrected and the Sky Materials managers sent Mr. Moncayo into the pit anyway. The walls collapsed on him and he died. He was 22 years old. In December of 2022, Carlos’ Law, named for Mr. Moncayo, was passed in New York. The law holds contractors responsible for fines up to $500,000 when a worker is seriously injured or killed as a result of management negligence.
A highlighted still image from a video shot on the 9th Avenue non-union job site the day Carlos Moncayo was killed in a cave-in shows the depth of the unrestrained pit he was sent into.
Also in 2015, Fernando Venegas, a 19-year-old worker new to construction, was working on a construction site in Brooklyn when a temporary wall collapsed on three workers. Mr. Venegas went into cardiac arrest and emergency workers attempted in vain to revive him. Local residents had lodged complaints about the job. “Barrier not stable,” one citizen wrote on his complaint, “I have taken pictures.”
A worker injured the day Fernando Venegas was killed in a wall collapse is prepared for transoport to a hospital.
On November 21, 2018, a worker named Over Paredes, a father of four and a new grandfather, was ordered by his non-union managers to work on the rooftop at 859 Myrtle Avenue despite abnormally high winds that day. The wind toppled a wall on him. His son, also working there that day, pulled him from the wreckage, but it was too too late to save him.
Over Paredes shown with a grandchild in a photo provided by his family. Mr. Paredes' son was working at the site the day a wall fell on him. The younger Mr. Paredes tried to rescue his father to no avail.
In September of that same year, Luis Almonte was killed in a cave-in on a non-union job in Brooklyn. The construction site managers, WSC Group, had been warned of a potential cave-in at the location, but they sent Mr. Almonte into a trench anyway. The walls collapsed on him, and due to heavy rains, rescue workers could not recover his remains for more than a day. WSC was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Mr. Almonte, a verdict that came just months after the passage of Carlos’ Law.
Luis Almonte died in a cave-in despite warnings about such an event from experts. It took rescue workers a day to retrieve his remains.
Victor Fana, a new member of New York concrete union Local 6A, testified to why you don’t see cave-ins on union-run work sites. “Unions are very buttoned up about safety. It’s the number one thing, as far as we’re concerned. The first thing we check every day is that everything is properly covered, that there are no open holes you can fall through or dangerous loads that can collapse. It’s just part of our routine.”
The inspector who spoke with Union-Built Matters echoed Mr. Fana’s comments, but with a sharper point of view. The inspector said, “There’s a real difference between sites that are completely run by unions and those that are not. While not all non-union job sites are dangerous, a lot of them are more dangerous than they should be. And conversely, I can say that on all union job sites safety is their top priority. And that’s why you don’t see walls collapsing on their jobs.”
If too many non-union builders are lax with safety and the lives of their workers, we ask you to consider what else they may be cavalier about when constructing buildings that New Yorkers intend to live in. Choose the option that’s safest for everyone involved. Choose union-built in New York City.
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