Construction Foreman Sentenced to Jail for Trench Death

EH&S News – February 23, 2017

Open Trench

On April 6th, 2015 in Manhattan an Ecuadorian immigrant worker named Carlos Moncayo was crushed to death by the collapse of an unfortified 13-foot-deep trench. In late 2016 Wilmer Cueva, Moncayo’s supervisor and foreman for the excavation company Sky Materials, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment and sentenced to one to three years in jail.

Trench Fortification - Wood Trench Fortification – Wood

City and federal regulations mandate that a trench be fortified appropriately as soon as it reaches five feet in depth. According to the report, Cueva had been repeatedly informed of the unsafe conditions, including a warning by an inspector on the day of the fateful event that the trench had reached the seven foot mark, but he had neglected to ensure that the proper safety measures were in place to protect workers. The site manager, Alfonso Prestia of general contractor Harco Construction, was aware of the violation as well but initially did not act to inform workers of the danger. The report also indicated that the job was likely behind schedule and that workers appeared rushed.

Two hours after the inspector’s warning, Prestia finally ordered workers to clear the area via communication delivered solely in English. Most site workers spoke only Spanish and continued working, including Moncayo. Shortly thereafter Moncayo was killed, reflecting negligence by the responsible parties both in the lack of timely action to conform to safety regulations and in the failure to communicate critical information in a manner all workers could understand.

Prestia was tried for criminally negligent homicide as well, receiving probation and community service as penalties. Harco Construction was ordered to fund public service ads.

Trench Fortification - Metal Trench Fortification – Metal

The lessons to be learned from this story are clear. No economic concerns are worth risking worker safety. Culpability in the workplace, while historically limited in terms of legal enforcement, is gradually being expanded in scope to include all truly responsible parties. Further, the unfortunate story of Carlos Moncayo emphasizes the importance of conscientious and timely communication that can be accessed and understood by all workers.

NES offers open enrollment and on-site OSHA safety training courses and provides construction safety consulting in a wide range of capacities. Contact us for Environmental Health & Safety training and consulting capabilities at 1.800.NES.ADVISE (1.800.637.2384) or