Army does not contest safety violations cited in first Super Pond death

The Army's Aberdeen Test Center did not contest any of the safety violations cited by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in connection with the death of a civilian diver at the post's Underwater Test Facility.

Earlier this month, OSHA issued notices of 11 violations of commercial diving safety standards to the ATC in the drowning death of George Lazzaro Jr., 41, a contractor who died Jan. 30 while performing what has been described as routine maintenance at the Super Pond, a huge man-made lake built to test ship hulls and explosive ordnance. The workplace safety agency said it found seven "serious" violations where there was "substantial possibility" death or serious injury could result.


The Army had until Wednesday to contest the OSHA findings in the Lazzaro death but did not, according to Leni Fortson, a spokesperson for OSHA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"[The Army] did not contest, and the citations will stand as is," Fortson said, explaining the Army is responsible "for abating the hazards that were identified."

"The U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center received the OSHA findings and provided a formal response on Aug. 15, 2013," Aberdeen Test Center Commander Col. Gordon Graham said through a spokesperson Thursday. "The ATC intends to incorporate these 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."

Mr. Lazzaro, who lived in Baltimore County, was the first of three divers to die at the Super Pond in less than a month. Navy Diver 1st Class James Reyher, 29, and Diver 2nd Class Ryan Harris, 22, died while training in the Super Pond on Feb. 26.

OSHA did not investigate the two Navy divers' deaths because it does not have jurisdiction over active-duty military personnel; however, the Navy has conducted its own probe and taken disciplinary or administrative actions against five sailors in the divers' unit and command based in Virginia Beach. Two of the five are also facing possible military trial.

The serious violations found included improper training for divers; 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.

According to a previous statement from OSHA: "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."

Also found were four "other-than-serious violations" that included ATC's failure to have a safe work practices manual and dive compression tables available at the dive site; to maintain a depth profile, which is a record of how deep each diver goes during the course of a dive; and to maintain dive-specific information for all divers.

According to OSHA: "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."

The Army conducted its own investigation of Mr. Lazzaro's death through the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Command/Safety Center based at Fort Rucker, Ala. An official accident report was forwarded to ATC's command on Aug. 8 for review and comment, a spokesperson for the investigating agency said last week. The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command had 90 days to review and comment before the report will be made public.