2 workers dead in trench collapse at JFK Airport jobsite

Dive Brief: Two workers died Monday after being trapped under rubble in a 30-foot-deep trench […]

Dive Brief:

  • Two workers died Monday after being trapped under rubble in a 30-foot-deep trench at a John F. Kennedy International Airport jobsite in New York City, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Construction work is now on hold while the investigation takes place.
  • “At the time of the incident, workers were relocating utility lines in the vicinity of [the] cogeneration plant to support the increased energy needs of the JFK redevelopment project,” according to the Port Authority, which operates the airport. “The temporary safety standdown remains until safety reviews have been conducted.”
  • The workers were identified as Francisco Reyes, 41, and Fernando Lagunas Pereira, 28, according to The New York Times. The name of the contractor that employed them has not yet been released, per the Port Authority.

Dive Insight:

Port Authority Police received a report of two workers trapped under construction rubble at 11:08 a.m. on Monday. The Port Authority Emergency Services Unit, fire department and EMS responded to the scene and began the rescue around 11:15 a.m. using an excavator, ropes, pulleys and chains, according to CBS News. The mens’ bodies were pulled out just after 1 p.m., when they were pronounced dead.

The Port Authority said in a statement that it is conducting a thorough investigation and will be cooperating with all other investigative agencies.

The ongoing construction at JFK Airport is part of a sprawling $18 billion-plus overhaul that entails the development of two new terminals, expansion of two existing terminals and other infrastructure improvements. AECOM Tishman is building Terminal 1; STV, Turner Construction, Group PMX, McKissack and NYCO are expanding Terminal 4; AECOM Hunt is constructing Terminal 6; and AECOM Holt is expanding Terminal 8.

Construction worker deaths on the rise

Construction worker deaths reached a five-year high in New York City last year, and this incident marks the third workplace fatality to occur at JFK International Airport in the past month alone, according to a joint statement from New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Selvena N. Brooks-Powers.

In an effort to address this dangerous trend, New York state passed Carlos’ Law in December 2022, which increases the penalty by 50 times (at a minimum) that a judge can levy on an employer as a result of a worker’s death or injury. The law is named for Carlos Moncayo, a 22-year-old undocumented Ecuadorian worker who died in a 2015 trench collapse.

Trench deaths are one of the leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry overall, according to OSHA, and the agency is stepping up enforcement as a result. Last year, 39 workers died from hazards in trench and excavation work, more than double the 15 who perished in all of 2021. Stephen Boyd, deputy regional administrator of OSHA’s Region 6, said at a January conference attended by Construction Dive that he expects this trench death trend to continue this year.