Authorities in New York City have charged a building owner with manslaughter in the case of a construction worker killed in the city when a trench excavation collapsed, the New York Times reported on Wednesday. (Registration is required.)
Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes charged that the building owner, William Lattarulo, ignored a consultant's warnings that the excavation was unsafe and ordered laborer Lauro Ortega to continue working. (A professional contractor was listed on the building permit, according to prosecutors, but Lattarulo was in fact supervising the job himself to save money.)
The choice ended in tragedy. Ortega, a 30-year-old day laborer, died of suffocation when collapsing earth covered his chest and prevented him from breathing. While criminal charges are unusual in cases of construction injuries or deaths, the law does provide for them. Hynes warned that with the city experiencing record numbers of construction fatalities this year, more prosecutions may be in the offing.
Man-hour for man-hour, trench work is one of the riskiest tasks in construction. To learn more, read "Deadly Hazard" from BUILDER's July 2004 issue.
The New York Times received a Pulitzer prize several years ago for its coverage of construction trench safety.
Ted Cushman is a contributing editor to BUILDER magazine.