Chicago worker swept to his death amid flash floods

A 25-year-old contractor working in a sewer on the northwest side of Chicago was killed during flash floods that hit the area on Sept 18. A rush of water came through the pipe he was in on North Rockwell Street, in the Avondale area, and swept him to his death.

The man’s fellow workers lowered a camera into the sewer to try to find him, but with no success. The Chicago Fire Department was called in, and police used helicopters and boats to look for him in the Chicago River. His body was discovered two hours later near Rockwell and Barry Avenue, about a block north of the sewer.

The man had been wearing a wetsuit, as well as a harness. However, he had taken the harness off in order to reach the area where he needed to work, which was just thirty inches wide. His fellow worker in the sewer with him still had his harness on, and was pulled out safely.

The contractor was an employee of Kenny Construction. He was working on a city project in which the sewer was being lined to help maintain its structural integrity. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is investigating the man’s death, the company has had only minor safety violations in recent years. However, they had three deaths in just six months during 1996 and 1997, for which they were fined $175,000.

The man, who lived in Glendale Heights with his wife and three young children, enjoyed his work, according to his sister-in-law. However, she says he worried about his safety. Family members recalled that he had a bad premonition when he awoke the morning of his death. Nonetheless, his sister-in-law said that he would always let the workers on his team come up first if there was an emergency below ground.

Just as construction site accidents remind us of what dangerous jobs construction workers have, people who work underground can also be at great risk. Whether the construction company for which this Chicago man worked was employed could have done anything to prevent this tragic accident will be determined by OSHA, and also in court, if the family decides to pursue litigation.

The Chicago Tribune, “Relative: Worker who died in Chicago sewer had worried about hazards of job” Meredith Rodriguez, Adam Sege and Joseph Ruzich, Sep. 19, 2013

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Chicago worker swept to his death amid flash floods