Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Hispanic Construction Worker Killed When Struck by Excavator Bucket
On September 12, 2003, a 28-year-old Hispanic carpenter was killed after he was stuck by the bucket of an excavator (trackhoe). The incident occurred at the construction site of a building being renovated into a nursery school. Part of the construction was the installation of stairs leading down from a narrow driveway into the basement of the building. The crew of five workers started at the site in the morning to work on the interior and to excavate a passage for the stairs. Shortly after arriving, the forman at the site was called away by the owner of the company. The foreman instructed one of the carpenters on how to use the excavator before he left. The excavator operator/carpenter and a helper worked in the driveway, while the remaining two carpenters worked in the basement. At approximately 11:00 a.m., one of the carpenters came out of the basement to deposit some trash in a dumpster. The excavator operator saw and warned the carpenter (victim) before moving the excavator to the dumpster. He did not see the victim, who was struck on the head as he walked in the narrow driveway. NJ FACE investigators recommend following these safety guidelines to prevent similar incidents:
On September 29, 2003, a county medical examiner notified NJ FACE staff of a Hispanic construction worker who was killed in a machine-related incident. A FACE investigator contacted the employer, who agreed to participate in a FACE investigation. On February 5, 2004, FACE investigators traveled to the company offices and interviewed the company owner. The following day, a FACE investigator photographed the incident site and briefly spoke with the head of the nursery school where the incident occurred. No witnesses were interviewed nor machinery examined during this investigation. Additional information was obtained from the county medical examiner’s report, police report, OSHA investigation file, and excavator manufacturer’s web site.
The victim’s employer was a construction contractor that specialized in general and drywall carpentry (SIC 1751, NAICS 238130). The contractor hired workers as needed and employed 13 workers at the time of the incident. Training was entirely on-the-job, though most of the workers hired were experienced in their trades. Basic safety practices such as wearing hard hats were enforced. The contractor was non-union and had been in business for seven years.
The victim was a 28-year-old Hispanic male carpenter who had worked “on and off” with the company for six months. He was returning to this employer after working out of state for the previous month. The victim was a native of Ecuador and had been living in the US since 1996. His employer stated that he did not speak English well and communicated through a co-worker who interpreted for him. The victim was survived by his wife and two children.
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The incident occurred at a construction site in a small New Jersey city. The project was the renovation and conversion of a small single-story brick industrial building, located near the center of town, into a nursery school. The building was separated from a neighboring building on the right side by a narrow, 11-foot, 10-inch driveway leading to the rear. The victim’s employer was contracted to do the interior renovation of the building. Work started in July, 2003, and was scheduled to be completed the following October.
Part of the project was to renovate the basement area into classrooms. The main access to the building was to be through an entrance located on the driveway side of the building, with an adjoining outdoor stairwell leading down to the basement. This required excavating the driveway to provide a passage to the basement. The employer was given the contract to install the steps, and ordered a crawler excavator (trackhoe) from a local company that rented construction equipment. The excavator was a 12,100-pound, 52-horsepower trackhoe equipped with a boomed excavator bucket. The machine measured 6’2” wide with a maximum boom-reach of 20’2”. The rental company delivered the excavator to the construction site on September 9, 2003.
The incident occurred on Friday, September 12, 2003. The day was dry
and clear with temperatures in the 60’s°F. A construction crew
consisting of a foreman, three carpenters (including the victim), and
a laborer arrived on site at 7:00 a.m. The foreman on this job spoke both
English and Spanish, as did two other workers. The victim and remaining
worker primarily spoke Spanish. The plan for that day was to work on the
basement and to prepare the site for the excavation of the basement stairs.
Sometime after the crew started work, the company owner contacted the
foreman and asked him to help out at another job site. The foreman, who
was to operate the excavator, was told by the company owner to instruct
one of the workers on how to use the machine. The foreman selected one
of the carpenters and showed him how to use the
The crew continued work, with two carpenters in the basement, and the laborer and third carpenter (now operating the excavator) working in the driveway. The laborer used a concrete saw to cut through sections of the asphalt driveway that was to be removed. The machine operator warned the workers twice to watch out for the machine, and began to remove the asphalt with the excavator. The alleyway was 10 feet, 11 inches wide, leaving only a few feet on either side of the six-foot-wide excavator. Shortly after 11:00 a.m., the excavator operator/carpenter saw the victim and warned him as the victim went to throw some trash into the dumpster. He then moved his excavator forward about 33 feet to deposit his first load of asphalt into the dumpster. As he moved back into position, the excavator operator/carpenter saw the victim sitting against the wall, holding his head. The excavator operator/carpenter immediately called 911, and the police started CPR when they arrived and found the victim unresponsive and not breathing. The paramedics arrived soon after, started advanced life support, and transported the victim to the local hospital emergency room, where he was pronounced dead at 11:42 a.m.
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Recommendation #1: Excavator operators must be thoroughly trained in the safe operation of the machine and demonstrate proficiency before operating machinery.
Discussion: In this case, the machine operator was a carpenter who had little or no knowledge on how to operate the excavator, and received only brief instructions by the foreman before he left the site. NJ FACE recommends that all machine operators should be thoroughly instructed on machine operation and safety before being allowed to use the machine. Training is best done with a combination of theory and hands-on instruction, and should also be done by a qualified person, such as a manufacture’s representative (possibly the rental agency) or an experienced user. The operator should also demonstrate the ability to safely operate the machine under the supervision of the trainer.