OSHA can't fine the U.S. Army, but after the death of a civilian contractor at the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, OSHA has issued notices regarding alleged violations of commercial diving safety standards at its facility in Aberdeen. OSHA's investigation was initiated in January following the fatality of a civilian engineering technician who died while performing routine maintenance at ATC's Underwater Explosion Test Facility, known as the "super pond."
"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," said Michael Stracka, acting director of OSHA's Baltimore/Washington Area Office. "All employers, especially those engaged in high-hazard activities such as diving, must provide a safe working environment for their employees."
The ATC provides test and test support services for authorized customers, within and outside the Department of Defense, including government and nongovernment organizations, domestic and foreign. The facility employs approximately 759 workers. The super pond measures 1,070 feet long and 920 feet wide with a maximum depth of 150 feet.
Seven alleged serious safety violations involve improper training for divers; the lack of a qualified, designated person in charge on the surface to manage all aspects of a dive; allowing diving activities to be performed without a standby diver; not maintaining continuous visual contact of other divers; no reserve breathing air supply during diving activities; and using breathing air to operate diver's buoyancy control rather than solely for breathing purposes. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Four other-than-serious violations include the center's failure to have a safe work practices manual and dive compression tables available at the dive site; maintain a depth profile, which is a record of how deep each diver goes during the course of a dive; and dive-specific information for all divers. An other-than-serious citation is issued when a violation has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
Detailed information on commercial diving safety hazards and safeguards is available at www.osha.gov/SLTC/commercialdiving/index.html.
Under Executive Order 12196, federal agencies must comply with the same safety and health standards as private sector employers covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The federal agency equivalent to a private sector citation is the Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions. The notice is used to inform establishment officials of violations of OSHA standards, alternate standards and 29 Code of Federal Regulations citable program elements. OSHA cannot propose monetary penalties against another federal agency for failure to comply with OSHA standards.
The notice will become a final order if the ATC does not request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in the Baltimore/Washington Area Office within 15 business days. This inspection, the first at the center, was conducted by OSHA's Baltimore/Washington office.