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Super Pond, serious safety violations: OSHA's investigation

Military facilities in Maryland and other states are by no means immune from laws that regulate workplace safety. And so when a civilian technician died at the Aberdeen Test Center while conducting routine maintenance, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Investigation (OSHA) began an investigation.

The civilian technician died in the so-called "Super Pond" at the Aberdeen Test Center. Super Pond is the popular name for the area formally called the Underwater Explosion Test Facility. It is used to test various underwater systems, and this involves sending divers down into the pond.

The death of the civilian technician that OSHA was investigating occurred in the pond on January 30. Within a month, two other people - this time sailors - had drowned there. 

In this post, we will look at the findings from OSHA's investigation.

OSHA found several serious safety violations at the Super Pond - a total of seven in all. The violations included:

  • Failure to provide proper training for divers
  • Permitting dives without a standby diver
  • Insufficient supervision of dives

Though the Super Pond is a very specialized facility, the similarity of these violations to those that occur in more common work settings is unmistakable. Failure to train employees, after all, is one of the most frequent sources of workplace safety violations.  Similarly, insufficient supervision can happen in all sorts of workplaces. 

But under OSHA regulations, serious safety violations are defined to be those that go beyond employer negligence. Serious violations involve conscious choices by employers causing conditions in which serious injury or death is a "substantial probability."

"Substantial probability" does not necessarily mean workplace injury or death is more likely than not. It means, rather, an undue risk of those occurrences.

Source: Army Times, "Army not contesting violations in civilian diver's death," August 28, 2013

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