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Army not contesting violations in civilian diver's death at Aberdeen

Aug. 28, 2013 - 05:20PM   |  
This undated Army photo shows a test pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.
This undated Army photo shows a test pond at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md. (Army via AP)
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The Army is not fighting safety violations at Aberdeen Test Center, Md., that were cited by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with the death of a civilian diver at the post’s Underwater Explosion Test Facility.

OSHA found seven serious violations at the facility, known as the “Super Pond.” OSHA began investigating after a civilian technician died while performing routine maintenance in the pond on Jan. 30. Four weeks later, two sailors drowned during a routine dive.

Col. Gordon Graham, commander of Aberdeen Test Center, said in an emailed statement that the center “intends to incorporate [OSHA’s] findings, as well as recommendations from other investigative bodies involved in the recent dive incidents, into its safety plans and procedures for future military dive operations at the site.”

In Aberdeen Test Center’s formal response to OSHA earlier this month, technical director John Wallace said the pond would remain closed as the center develops an “appropriate and actionable abatement plan, detailing how ARC has resolved all inspection findings.”

“This [plan] may include transitioning to use of military dive support assets and application of associated dive protocols,” Wallace’s letter says.

The Army is in discussions with the Navy over the pond’s future and which service will take responsibility for operations there, said Robin Boggs, a Army Test and Evaluation Command spokesperson. Most of the operations there are Navy related.

The Super Pond is used to conduct shock testing of vessels, submarine systems and munitions. With a bottom measuring 300 feet in diameter and a maximum depth of 150 feet, the facility also has been used in testing torpedoes, missiles, warheads, amphibious and remotely controlled vehicles, underwater gun firing, and acoustics.

The Army must certify that it has corrected the violations by deadlines included in the notice OSHA issued in late July. Most of the serious problems were required to be fixed earlier this month, but the Army has until mid-September to ensure that divers are properly trained and supervised.

The serious violations included improper training for divers; inadequate supervision during dives; allowing dives to be performed without a standby diver; and using breathing air for purposes other than breathing. Serious violations occur when employers knowingly do something that causes a substantial probability of death or serious injury, according to OSHA.

The less 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.

In addition to OSHA, the death of George Lazzero, 41, of Nottingham, Md., is being investigated by the Army Combat Readiness Command/Safety Center, based at Fort Rucker, Ala. His cause of death has not been released.

An official accident report was forwarded to Aberdeen Test Center’s command Aug. 8 for review and comment, a spokesperson for the Safety Center told the Baltimore Sun. Army Test and Evaluation Command had 90 days to review and comment before the report will be made public.

The Navy, meanwhile, is pursuing charges including involuntary manslaughter against two sailors in the Feb. 26 drownings of Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 28, of Caldwell, Ohio, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 23, of Gladstone, Mo.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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