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Tunnel worker loses his life in New York Nov 2011
Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
Tragedy hit the East Side Access project in New York on Thursday night (17 November) when a chunk of green shotcrete fell and killed a tunnel worker.
Michael O'Brien, a member of the New York Local 147 Sandhog labor union, was 26 years old had been working at the site for less than a month. His father, Robert O'Brien, was shift supervisor in the same crew when the fatal accident occurred. Despite frantic efforts to resuscitate his son, the young man was pronounced dead when the ambulance arrived at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital at about 8pm. O'Brien senior, a career member of the Local 147 Sandhog Union, had arranged the tunneling job for his son.

Fatality occurred while shotcreting drill+blast work Photo by The New York Daily News

The accident happened in drill+blast enlargements or 'wyes' on the TBM running tunnels to allow for track junctions. A direct source who works in the contractor's supervision team and wanted to remain anonymous told TunnelTalk that the shotcrete that fell had been applied within the previous half hour.
O'Brien, he said, was part of the shotcreting crew and was bending down sorting the lie of shotcrete hoses near the concrete pump when a shotcrete block of about 8in thick and 4ft2 struck and killed him. The accident occurred at about 7.30pm.
Richard Fitzsimmons, a business manager of the Local 147 Union, told local reporters that O'Brien didn't have a chance; that "a hardhat is no match for hundreds of pounds of weight. He never saw it coming and no one had a chance to yell or scream to warn him."
The young Sandhog's body was flown back to the family's hometown in Wisconsin where memorial services and the funeral take place Monday and Tuesday of this week (21-22 November). The distraught parents told reporters of how their son had been in the process of turning his life away from heroin addiction and other personal tragedies.
Work on the project was suspended on Friday pending investigation, but was planned to resume on this Monday for a short working week until the site closes for the US Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday (24 November).
  • Drill+blast forms the station caverns and wye junctions on the running tunnels

    Drill+blast forms the station caverns and wye junctions on the running tunnels

  • A station platform cavern taking shape

    A station platform cavern taking shape

Working environment
The work under Manhattan is being carried out by the Dragados/Judlau JV as part of the grand-scale $7.3-billion East Side Access project for the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority).
Dragados/Judlau negotiated the $734 million contract for the two large station platform caverns after winning award of the $428 million contract for the TBM running tunnels under Park Avenue into Grand Central Terminal in 2006. The two 1,500ft long x 67ft high x 58ft 6in span (457m x 20m x 17.86m) caverns will accommodate eight platforms, two above two in each cavern. Work by Dragados/Judlau on the project totals of more than $1.15 billion.

Distraught parents (Photo by The New York Daily News)

Further contracts on the east side of the East River in Queens are completing soft ground slurry TBM and ground freezing excavations to provide the junction with existing surface rail infrastructure on the LIRR network.
From the start of the work in Manhattan, Spanish leader of the JV, Dragados with 70%, is known to have struggled with local Sandhog union rules. When TunnelTalk visited the site in December 2007, when the two running tunnel TBMs were being assembled and launched, discussions with different members of the crews, including Sandhogs, gave the impression that the laborers worked for the Union rather than the contractor.
Fatalities on tunnel projects are thankfully dramatically down on previous statistics, but this is the second fatality in New York State reported by TunnelTalk in two months.
In October, the contractor on a water intake tunnel under Lake Ontario in Webster, New York State was facing fines of $55,000 by OSHA for seven safety violations, one of which caused the death of a loco driver.
OSHA has opened investigations into last Thursday's fatality on the East Side Access project in New York City, but this is not the first safety close calls experienced on the Manhattan project.
In early November the TunnelTalk source told of how "two loaded muck cars rolled down the tracks and hit a man lift with two Sandhogs in it. It spun the basket around throwing the guys out, went up the track, came back down, and hit the man lift again. One guy was bruised up and the other broke a rib and a face bone."
He went on to report that "exactly one week later we had another pair of muck cars get away. This time no one was hurt." His conclusion as a superintendent with the construction company is that "these are all errors by the workers; people not paying attention to their job." He predicted that the attitude within the working environment was "an accident waiting to happen."
Sadly the prediction has resulted in a worker paying the highest price with his life.
References
East Side Access optimization - TunnelTalk, August 2008
Slurry TBMs for East Side Access Queen's tunnels - TunnelTalk, March 2011
Contractors fined for water tunnel fatality - TunnelTalk, Oct 2011
PPE last line of defense for safety at work - TunnelTalk, Sept 2010

           

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