The manhole covers that dot the streets of New York City are supposed to keep pedestrians and road workers safe, but they also cause injury every year. Now that snow and ice are melting to make way for spring, people walking or working around them should take extra precautions.

Below is an overview of common accidents related to manhole covers in the city.

Steam burn injuries

When hot steam rises through the holes in the steel covers, people walking across them can suffer serious burn injuries to their legs and feet. There have even been cases where flames issue from these vent holes: in February multiple manhole fires erupted in Midtown, forcing the closure of a theater complex. Subway trains on the C and E lines were also diverted from the 50th Street station.


On the afternoon of March 22, 2018, an explosion was heard for several blocks around Wall Street. The NYPD reported that the sound was caused by a popping manhole cover and a WCBS reporter later stated that an underground transformer blew near the Federal Reserve.

Consolidated Edison stated that during the first week of February 2015, it counted an unbelievable 600 cases of fire, smoke, and explosions in city manholes. When roads are covered with salt to keep ice from accumulating during the winter, the salt can fall onto old underground cables and wires and erode them until an electrical fire starts. If an explosion occurs, then the flying manhole cover can cause serious injury.

Although the majority of manhole explosions take place in the winter, they can also happen in the summer. Intense heat build-up can damage the aging wires and lead to a dangerous explosion.

The New York electrical system is the oldest in the U.S. According to Business Insider, cables have a lifespan of approximately 40 years, but 5% of Manhattan’s low-voltage cables were installed before 1930.

In 2005 Consolidated Edison started replacing older NYC manhole covers with newer, better-vented ones, but there are 246,000 covers throughout the city, so a lot of work still needs to be done.

Occupational injuries

According to workers’ compensation provider PERMA, the average cost for a musculoskeletal injury incurred by lifting manhole covers is $14,838. The injury types resulting in expensive claims include:

  • Foot injuries
  • Back strain
  • Crushed fingers

It stated that covers range in weight from a few pounds to 500, with the average weight being around 110 lbs.

Call a New York personal injury attorney

Manhole-related injuries can be serious enough to change your life forever. If you suffer burns, then blunt force trauma, or musculoskeletal damage, contact a New York personal injury attorney who will ensure that you get the compensation you need to recover.