Fix the pumps

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Safety first

[Updated July 3, 2011]

Let's return to the work happening August 14, 2010 at the 17th Street site photographed by Steve Beatty. It's a good bet possiblity this work is being performed by a subcontractor to architecture and landscape architecture firm Perez APC under contract W912P8-10-P-0139. Normally I would offer link to this contract, but the Corps has thus far refused to even acknowledge my FOIA request for it, even violating the 20 day statutory maximum for such an acknowledgement.

[Update July 3, 2011

The Corps turned over the Perez bridge pump repair contract and the solicitation that led to it, W912P8-10-T-0091, on July 1, 2011, over a year after my June 24, 2010 FOIA request was filed. I have enabled the links.

The contract specifies repairs to four of the fourteen 42" bridge pumps with the same basic scope as the second Healtheon contract - replace all the carbon steel internal and external piping with stainless steel piping. It is likely at least some of these pumps had their Rineer motors and other moving parts like bearings seals changed out, but this contract didn't specify it. Also, the contract doesn't say which pumps specifically were included in the scope, but there are more documents to come on this request.

The reason I changed the verbiage from "good bet" to "possibility" above is because the contract was awarded April 23, 2010 with a required completion date of June 1, 2010. That doesn't mean the work was actually done by then - contract slippage is a way of life with the Corps - but it does open the possibility someone else was doing the work in August, 2010. Another mitigating factor is that the contract left the pulling and reinstallation of the pumps to someone besides Perez or whomever they hired. The contract says, "The government needs 30 days to install the pumps." When I get the rest of my request fulfilled, hopefully I can nail down the chronology and the details.]

Steve took a number of shots, found here. We'll start zoomed all the way out:

Before getting into the pump work, note the uncoupled absorbent boom on the lower left. This would appear to be part of the upstream boom that came detached when the remnants of Tropical Depression #5 came ashore. There's much more detail about the boom in my previous entry, Boom goes the oil.

Moving on, we can see the Corps' rental crane was being used. And we know from the photos on the 13th there was likely work happening on bridge pump #7.

Zooming in a little further:

Pump #7 had arrived at the site the morning of the 14th.

What followed were some preliminaries, including having one of the contractor workers ride in an aerial lift basket down to the spot where the pump was to be reinstalled. Here's the first part of that sequence, with the basket being flown directly over the other employees while attached to the crane:

Here's what OSHA regulation 1926.100(a) says about head protection:
"Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets."

An aerial lift basket attached to a crane is a definite danger from falling objects.

Corps of Engineers safety manual EM 385-1-1, chapter 5, paragraph 05.D.01 says this about head protection:
"All persons working in or visiting hard hat areas shall be provided with and required to wear Type I or Type II, Class G (General - low voltage electrical protection) or Class E (Electrical – high voltage electrical protection) headgear."

That's bureaucratic-ese for "hard hat." The section goes to say,
"Hard hat areas or activities are those areas with potential hazard of head injury; in general, all construction areas are considered hard hat areas."

For reference, the entire Corps safety manual is here.

Corps of Engineers safety manual EM 385-1-1, chapter 16, paragraph 16.G.09(b)(3) says this about an employee being under a suspended load,
"No employee shall be permitted to work under any suspended loads. Exception: Where workers are engaged in the initial connection of steel or employees are unhooking the load."

And finally, while it does not become effective until November of this year, OSHA's just-promulgated revised crane standards have a lot to say about lifting stuff with a crane over people's heads. Specifically, there's an entire section devoted to it (1926.1425) titled "Keeping clear of the load," which basically says no one is allowed in the fall zone under a load.

So the basket was lifted over the other employees' heads (yikes!) and then lowered in front of the deck to a position in front of the slot for pump #7:

Let's zoom into the worker in the basket:

There's a lot to mention here. First off, the guy isn't wearing a personal floatation device (PFD), better known as a life vest, even though he's directly over the water, which is 10 to 12 feet deep there. This a major no no. The section of the OSHA construction regulations about work over water (1926.106) says,
"Employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests."

And it's not like the PFD's aren't available. You can see them in the previous shot:

They were sitting in the same spot on the front end of the rental crane the previous day:

I've also noted that he's not wearing a hardhat. One might make the excuse that he's in an enclosed cage, so how could he hurt his head? Consider what would happen if the crane operator accidentally dropped the line holding the cage a couple of feet very rapidly. How strongly would his head hit the top of the cage? Pretty hard I'd guess.

In addition to that, OSHA has a specific regulation addressing head protection for workers on crane-supported personnel platforms. 1926.550(g)(4)(ii)(f) says,
"In addition to the use of hard hats, employees shall be protected by overhead protection on the personnel platform when employees are exposed to falling objects."

The Corps' safety manual copies that line word for word in their chapter 16, at paragraph 16.T.04(e).

But more striking than the lack of a PFD or a hardhat is the fellow's position in the basket. With his feet on the middle guard rails and his rump on the uppermost rail, it is very easy to imagine him pitching backwards out of the basket into the water. That's why activities like this are prohibited by OSHA at 1926.550(g)(6)(i):
"Employees shall keep all parts of the body inside the platform during raising lowering, and positioning. This provision does not apply to an occupant of the platform performing the duties of a signal person."

The Corps safety manual says the same thing at 16.T.06(g):
"Employees (except a designated signal personal) shall keep all parts of the body inside the platform during raising, lowering, and positioning."

The new OSHA crane standard goes even further, remarkably addressing this exact situation (which one would not think necessary until seeing the picture above!). New subparagraph 1926.1431(k)(2)(ii) says,
"Platform occupants must not stand, sit on, or work from the top or intermediate rail or toeboard, or use any other means/device to raise their working height."

Finally, there is also the open question of where his fall protection is. He does not appear to be wearing a harness with an attached lanyard. This particular confluence of circumstances (an aerial lift of a worker in an basket over water) is not quite as black and white vis a vis the harness as one might think. Normally workers in a personnel platform like this are required to wear a fall protection harness and be hooked into the platform (or basket in this case) with a lanyard. However, the work over water adds a wrinkle. OSHA issued an interpretation on this very situation in March of this year.

It basically says that while the worker is in the basket over the water, he is allowed to keep his lanyard unattached even though the letter of the law says he must remain tied off to the basket. This is because if the basket were to come off the crane hook, he would be at a much greater risk of drowning by being attached to the basket. This interpretation is notable because it assumes that the worker is wearing a PFD - the idea of someone not doing so over water is too crazy to even consider.

If the worker was only in the basket to go down and inspect the area around where pump #7 would be reinstalled, then it's barely conceivable he wouldn't be wearing a harness. However, if he was planning to get out of the basket on to the scaffolding, there would not be any reason for his not wearing a harness, because he would have to tie off as soon as he got on the scaffold from the basket. The reality is the guy should have a harness and a life vest on, and he should be tying his harness off to the basket when it flies over the structure.

There's lots other stuff here. For example, when personnel are working over water, OSHA (and the Corps for that matter) requires that a boat be available for water rescues. Access to the water at the 17th Street site is not easy; there's certainly no direct access from the main deck or the pump platforms. Steve Beatty's photos don't show any boats at any of the typical access points upstream or downstream of the structure, nor are there any nearby when the worker is over the water. What if the guy fell in the water, not wearing a PFD? Would his fellow workers be able to get to him in time without a rescue boat?

The next shot, taken about a minute after the previous one, shows the guy in the basket with his feet back on the floor of the basket. It also confirms his lack of a hard hat:

It also shows one of the other employees (still without hardhats) acting as a signal person, communicating with the crane operator on how to position the basket. It makes sense for such a person to be in the vicinity of the load as it is lifted (though not underneath it, as he was in earlier photo above). However, it raises the question as to what the other two employees standing near him are doing in such close proximity to an active critical lift. They should be outside a barricade, assuming it was erected before the lift began as required by OSHA and the Corps.

The final shot, taken about a minute after the last one, shows the basket appearing to be tipping off of vertical as it comes in contact with a drain pipe on the structure:

The standard clauses for Corps contracts include requirements that the contractor and their subcontractors adhere to OSHA rules and the Corps' own safety manual. It is, to say the least, quite unclear where the oversight was on these subcontractors on August 14th, and one has to wonder about the quality of the work when so little regard is devoted to their own safety. And don't forget, as I mentioned in the last post, all the protective oil boom at the site was either floating loose or beached during this same time, showing a similar disregard for the Clean Water Act and applicable Louisiana state statutes.

So the Corps isn't really into:
- contractor safety
- addressing corrosion during design and startup of pumps
- fixing deeply corroded pumps quickly
- reporting oil spills to state or federal authorities (in 2006, 2007, or from 2007 onward)
- controlling oil spills

What exactly are they into?


In a future post we'll talk about all the cute trees they've planted at the gate sites, while allowing the actual pumps to rot.



    Looks like the boom is back in place. Stopped by the 17th Street Canal Station today while giving some out of town friends the Magical Misery Tour.

    By Blogger Clay, at August 20, 2010 7:43 PM  

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