OSHA issued a notice to the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) for violating nearly a dozen commercial diving safety standards. The U.S. Department of Labor found seven serious and four other than-serious violations at the weapon-testing pond near Baltimore. The investigation, the first at the weapon-testing center, looked into the death of a civil engineer at the ATC’s Underwater Explosion Test Facility, also known as the “super pond.” George Lazzaro Jr., a civilian employee, died on Jan. 30 while performing routine maintenance in the super pond. The cause of his death has not been released, though both OSHA and the Army have looked into the case.
The super pond claimed two more lives when first class navy diver, James Reyher, 28, and second class diver Ryan Harris, 23, drowned during a training exercise on February 26. The two men died after something went wrong during an underwater rigging operation. The pond was closed for all military and civilian operations that same day.
While their deaths were ruled as accidental drowning, the investigations by a military judge are in line; two sailors could face charges including involuntary manslaughter.
Acting director of OSHA’s Baltimore/Washington Area Office, Michael Stracka says, “Tragedies, such as this, can be prevented by following OSHA’s commercial diving operations standards, which are in place to protect divers from risk of serious hazards, including drowning, hypothermia, circulatory and respiratory problems.” Stracka emphasized providing a safer working environment for employees engaged in highly hazardous activities.
Army super pond safety violations considered serious
The federal department on Thursday announced that it has found seven serious violations. Meaning a substantial probability of death or physical harm from the hazard that the employee knew or should have known about. Some of the serious infringements include:
- Improper training for divers
- Absence of a qualified and designated person in charge on the surface to manage all aspects of the dive
- Not maintaining continuous visual contact of other divers
- Absence of a standby diver during diving activities
- Lack of reserve breathing air supply during diving activities
- Use of breathing air to operate diver’s buoyancy control rather than solely for breathing purposes
Four other-than-serious violations include the lack of a safe work practice manual and dive compression tables at the dive site. There was also no dive specific information for all divers, which is needed to maintain a depth profile: a way to record how deep each diver can go during the course of a dive.
OSHA and the ATC now
According to the notice served by OSHA to ATC, the latter must certify that all violations — including lack of training and supervision — have been corrected by mid-September. The notice will become the final order by operation of law if the ATC does not contest the citation. The super pond will remain closed until the outcome of all the investigations.
The “super pond,” which measures 1,070 feet long, 920 feet wide, and 150 feet deep, is used for conducting shock testing of vessels, submarine systems, and munitions. It has also been used for testing missiles, torpedoes, warheads, underwater gun firing and acoustics, and amphibious, remotely controlled vehicles. The U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, with approximately 759 workers, provides test and test support for authorized customers, within and outside the Department of Defense. This includes government and non-government organizations, domestic and foreign trainees.