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Posted 10/6/2017

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By Stephen Baack
Huntsville Center Public Affairs

Numerous hazards confront professional divers during even simple operations, but they do not need to face their task alone. For a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dive operation, a team of professionals is behind them with a comprehensive plan.

This was the case during a dive operation that took place Aug. 28 through Sept. 1 to repair the marine oil booms at the Pearl Harbor Hotel Pier off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Members of Huntsville Center’s Fuels Recurring Maintenance and Minor Repair Program led the coordination effort on the dive operation to inspect and repair the booms, which are floating apparatuses designed to contain any oil that might leak from a docking vessel.

The Hotel Pier is made to accommodate large vessels that include aircraft carriers. The damage to these particular booms was from an accumulation of normal wear and tear.

“The coordination for a dive is pretty intense,” said Lauren Ross, project manager for Navy Phase 6, a project encompassing work on 25 sites throughout the Pacific region. “The team did a great job with prior planning, which included reviewing the dive plans, coordination with multiple stakeholders from various agencies, and making sure that everything was safe while work was performed to required standards.”

Here in Huntsville, Ross teamed up with safety managers Jason Walsh and Ray Waits to put together the dive plan. The three partnered with USACE Alaska District’s dive coordinators David Prado and Gregory Vernon. Contractor Pond Constructors and their subcontractor Truston Technologies executed the dive operation with Vernon performing duties as a dive inspector.

According to Vernon, several safety requirements factor into the complexity of dive plans. Considerations include the depth and duration of a dive, as well as the diver’s qualification, experience, and physical and mental conditions. For example, a diver must have completed at least one year of commercial experience, have completed four working dives with similar decompression techniques as in the dive plan, and they must provide supporting documentation.

“There are also stringent medical requirements a diver must undergo before being considered fit for diving,” said Vernon. “A minor cold or an ear problem can sideline a diver.”

All USACE dive operations are carried out in accordance with Engineer Manual 385-1-1, the Corps’ Safety and Health Requirements Manual, which includes 24 pages of diving requirements.

Due to these stringent requirements, Vernon said he has seen dive plans as large as 300 pages.

Walsh, who called this particular operation “very well-coordinated all around,” said the contractors met up the day before operations commenced to pre-inspect and ensure they had everything they needed to prevent any delays during the actual operation, meeting with Vernon each morning during the operation as well.

“It takes time, but everyone made the coordination and communication a priority,” said Ross. “The results of that were obvious when they got on site.”

In an email to Ross and Walsh on the day operations wrapped up, Vernon praised the dive team for executing an operation that was “one of the best I have seen in years.”

“The team covered every aspect of the dive hazards, as well as the external hazards associated with pier operations,” Vernon said.

Vernon added that he was impressed with the daily, “overlapping” safety briefings to all personnel, which he called a best practice. These consisted of an initial briefing that covered topside hazards and another round of overlapping safety guidance that covered dive-specific hazards.

Additionally, he said the on-site team exceeded the safety standard by ensuring everyone there had received formal safety training relevant to the operation. 

“They not only exceeded our standards but implemented best practices I have not witnessed for the 17 years I have worked for the Corps,” Vernon added. “I just wish I could give them some kind of recognition for the outstanding work performance.”

alaska district Army Diving Hawaii Hotel Pier huntsville center Huntsville Center Fuels Recurring Maintenance and Minor Repair Program pearl harbor Pond Constructors safety Truston Technologies U.S. Army Corps of Engineers U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center Huntsville USACE