Occupational Health and Safety
(7 Minute Read)

A tragic worksite incident in Boston claimed the lives of 2 workers—our safety manager breaks down what happened and how it could have been prevented.

Job sites pose a variety of risks to property and people and unfortunately those risks sometimes become a reality. Whenever an incident happens, it is important to learn from the mistakes that were made to prevent the events from repeating themselves. This is especially true in the case of the most tragic accidents that result in the loss of life. People are more important than profit, and keeping crews safe and ensuring they make it home healthy should be at the forefront of an organization’s strategy. In this post, we are looking at a tragic worksite incident in Boston that claimed the lives of two crew members. Kyle Ricely, the safety manager for our ExergyPro partners, will give a no holds barred breakdown of the incident, the site, and how the company could have prevented it from happening in the first place.  

The Boston Accident

Let’s start with the information provided publicly on the incident. On February 24th, 2021 Atlantic Coast Utilities (ACU) was conducting emergency sewer repairs in downtown Boston requiring a 20 foot deep trench. Just after 8:00 a.m., a dump truck reversed into two of the utility workers, striking them into the trench. Firefighters were dispatched to the scene, and first had to make the trench safe for their team and move the truck out of the way. They then conducted a confined space rescue attempt which was reclassified to a recovery after an EMS member assessed the two men. Eyewitness accounts indicated that the truck started, revved its engine, ground into gear and suddenly jolted backward into the two men who were sitting over the side of the trench. [1]

The Company

Whenever you examine an incident, it is important to get an understanding of the basic safety culture and environment of the company. One of our pillars of risk management is the belief that a culture that prioritizes safety is essential for the long-term success of an organization. When looking at any accident, an examination of company culture is a vital part of the discussion. More on that later, but let’s get a basic gist of ACUs approach to safety.  

Atlantic Coast Utilities has multiple citations from OSHA due to violating workplace standards. In 2016 they were fined upwards of $34,000 for violations described by OSHA as “willful and serious”. These fines remain unpaid. In 2019 ACU received additional citations for failing to provide adequate safety instructions and violating safety rules. [2] In addition, the company’s vehicles failed highway safety inspections rates 27% of the time, above the national average of 21%, and drivers were ordered off the road multiple times due to issues with licensing. [1]  

The OSHA investigation following the incident revealed that ACU failed to provide safety training, protection, or worksite inspection prior to the incident. The owner of the company was found to have been evading regulations for years by shutting down companies and opening new ones when he would receive any safety violations. OSHA’s investigation found the company at fault and recommended over $1.3 million in fines. [3]

Breaking down the incident with Kyle Ricely  

We reviewed publicly available information on the incident and the subsequent investigation and then we sat down with Kyle Ricely, a safety manager with our Exergy Pro partners who has years of experience helping companies build a culture that prioritizes safety and keeps job sites safe and secure. Let’s break down what happened, and what could have been done differently.  

 

Hey Kyle! Thanks for taking the time to sit with us and discuss how to keep crewmembers safe!

K: No problem, I think discussions like this are important and so many companies could benefit from thinking about how to keep their people safe.

Let’s start with the basics of this particular job site. A trench excavation about 20 feet deep. Where do you start to think about making that job safe?

K: Most of the time, all people worry about is a cave in, but any safety professional comes into an excavation site looking at 4 primary dangers that OSHA guidelines require you to address. Electrical Hazards, Fall Hazards, Struck-Bys, and Caught-Betweens. Right off the bat, there should be a site inspection identifying and addressing those hazards and a toolbox talk with crewmembers to make sure everyone is aware of, and trained for, the hazards the site presents.

In a situation where you have heavy machinery, like the dump truck that struck the two crewmembers, what additional considerations should there be?

K: Well, in this case the truck fits into that category of struck-by. There are a lot of things to consider with any struck-by hazard, but it begs questions about the practices on the job site. There is no indication the truck driver had a spotter, and what the company required in terms of PPE (personal protection equipment). Did they require employees to wear high-visibility colors in addition to standard PPE, like hardhats? We don’t have that information but it’s an important consideration when you think about preventing incidents like this. And then you have the truck and driver.

What are you looking at there when you are developing a safety plan?

K: You have to take a look at both the driver and the truck. When it comes to the driver you have several factors to look at. Is there adequate training on safe backing? What is this driver’s experience like? Are your drivers’ licensing and DOT records up to date? You HAVE to look at who you are hiring and make sure that you are sending safe and experienced drivers to your job sites.

You also have to address vehicle maintenance here. Reading these eye-witness accounts of the truck grinding into gear and jolting back speaks to driver skill but also could indicate issues with the transmission. You should be having daily walk-around inspections of vehicles as well as regular preventative maintenance plans to keep unsafe vehicles from ever reaching the jobsite.  

What else stands out to you from this incident and job site?

K: There are several things that I think you have to address here. One—the two workers who were struck by the truck. A policy that should always be in place around heavy equipment is staying outside of the line of fire of a vehicle. Two—there should always be a trained and competent supervisor on site to make sure that everything is being handled correctly. It doesn’t seem like that was the case here as there was no spotter communicating with the driver or any safe backing practices. Three—it seems like there was a basic lack of proper excavation safety. There should be a trench box, easy access and egress points, barriers around the hole to mitigate fall hazards, and a secure perimeter around the hole and site to create as safe and secure a jobsite as possible.  

[After our discussion with Kyle, he helped us draw up a comparison of how the incident was reported, and what should have been in place]  

Comparing the reported incident to a jobsite with proper safety procedures

There is a lot there but what I am hearing is there are a lot of steps of a safety plan that were neglected here that need to be part of a company’s approach to every job site.  

K: Absolutely, you can’t be reactive. To have a successful safety program you need to have a proactive strategy and policy in place. Doing the work ahead of time that is then ingrained within your approach to each site.  

How do you train on that and make sure it goes from written programs to all the different job sites a company will see?

K: For me it all starts with the basics—competent person training. You make sure every team member has the basic skills and safety awareness to understand how to handle the basic risks and scenarios they will see all the time, and you train on this regularly.  

From there, you have to approach each site as the unique challenge it is. We would have them create site-specific safety plans identifying hazards and how to mitigate them. Taking it down another level we would have meetings at the start of each workday talking about how we are going to get through the day safely.  

The other component you really have to talk about is culture, making safety a priority throughout the whole company.  

Let’s focus on that a bit more. When you take a look at the basic information we have about this company, it seems like there’s a lot to talk about.

K: I’ll be honest with you, for all intents and purposes it seems like the company doesn’t care about safety at all. You have repeated OSHA offenses and violations for unsafe practices, you have leadership that does not fix issues but instead starts a new company to avoid investigation, and then add on top of all that their issues with drivers not having up to date licenses as well as their vehicles failing inspections at just an awful rate. The point is safety just doesn’t seem to matter to them, and I think that showed on this jobsite.  

And this is serious, lives were lost.

K: Absolutely, companies need to realize that lives are at stake every day. Even if you can avoid fatal accidents, the trajectory of your business and all its employees’ lives could be derailed by unsafe practices, accidents, and the ramifications of dealing with these incidents.  

It’s obvious that safety culture matters, but what does that look like in practice? And how do you create it?

K: Any company that wants to have a culture of safety needs to have 4 basic pillars in place: Training, Programs, Audits and Inspections, and Discipline. That’s the minimum.  

We have talked a bit already about training regularly. Having the right programs in place is important, from your safety manual to industry specific guidelines. And companies need to be conducting inspections and audits to ensure things are sticking to the program. But I really want to focus on discipline. In my experience many companies have some level of the other three pillars but really neglect this one.  

Why do you think that is?

K: I think it is the most challenging one for a lot of people. You may have to send people home, or even lay people off. But having progressive disciplinary programs in place is essential for creating any sense of urgency when it comes to safety. There has to be a standard. Employees should be aware that their unsafe behavior will not be tolerated and has consequences. All the programs and training in the world mean very little if, at the end of the day, you don’t actually enforce them.  

They might be worried about losing time and productivity and finding people to replace their guys, but I think a mindset shift needs to happen. When it comes to talent it has to be quality safe guys over a bunch of unsafe guys. And the repercussions from lawsuits and OSHA fines will far outweigh any temporary losses of revenue, some business owners have even gone to jail and lost their businesses entirely due to the fallout from safety incidents.  

Makes perfect sense.

K: I also think you have to talk about Leadership. Any successful transformation of company safety culture I have seen has had buy-in from the top down. Leadership, especially middle management, needs to prioritize safety right alongside productivity and quality. If you start putting productivity and quality above safety, that’s when you see a culture with shoddy practices, near misses, and eventually accidents. Across the organization you need your leaders on board with that. We like to train leaders on their role and responsibility when it comes to leading and disciplining their crew. You can’t have any member of the team passing the buck on safety.

How you lead your company definitely matters. We could talk for hours about training and this specific incident but let’s close with your final thoughts on this incident.

K: I think the thing I want someone to come away with is that this accident that cost two men their lives was totally preventable. Safety has to be core to your ideology and culture to be safe and successful long term. With that foundation, I believe every incident is preventable.  

Thanks for your time and work on this Kyle.

K: Anytime!

Special thanks to Kyle and the Exergy Pro team. If you have any questions about this article, the incident in Boston, or safety related questions, feel free to get in touch by clicking this link.

References

  1. Dwyer, D. (2021, February 25). What we know about the ‘tragic incident’ at a Boston construction site that killed 2 workers. Boston.com. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2021/02/25/2-workers-killed-high-street-construction-site-boston/.
  2. WCVB. (2021, August 19). OSHA suggests $1.3 million in fines for company involved in deadly construction accident. WCVB. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.wcvb.com/article/deadly-boston-contstruction-accident-osha-suggests-fine-for-company/37341593.
  3. Kornreich, J. (2021, August 18). OSHA faults contractor involved in 2 worker deaths in Boston. OSHA Faults Contractor Involved In 2 Worker Deaths In Boston | WBUR News. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.wbur.org/news/2021/08/18/osha-report-worker-deaths-boston.