The Corps of Engineers performs work that oftentimes has significant health and safety risks associated with it. Corps employees and their contractors are held to high standards when it comes to compliance with safety requirements. The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division’s motto is “Building Strong and Taking Care of People”, a theme reflected in the organization’s commitment to worker safety.
The Corps of Engineers Buffalo District is currently undergoing safety audits on their safety procedures and programs to ensure they are compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EM 385-1-1 Safety and Health Requirements Manual requirements. For example, in a recent rule change regarding beryllium exposure, the update “reduces the permissible exposure limit to .02 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over 8-hours” and “establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air, over a 15-minute sampling period”. Beryllium is a highly toxic substance often used in industrial manufacturing operations. The Corps of Engineers Buffalo District has managed projects on sites containing beryllium, so awareness of the risks involved is critical for worker safety.
Industrial Hygienist Roseanne Weidner has acted as the industrial hygienist of the formerly utilized sites remedial action program (FUSRAP) in the Buffalo District. Congress provides funds for FUSRAP in an effort to assess and clean up the environmental hazards associated with industrial complexes that left hazardous substances behind when they shuttered; some of the sites are a remnant of World War II’s Manhattan Project.
“Due to the unique chemical and physical hazards at these sites, it is important to ensure that our employees have been given the required training and personal protective equipment to minimize their exposure,” said Ms. Weidner. “In addition to following OSHA guidelines, we adhere to Corps-wide standards and regularly survey the industry for best practices.”
Ms. Weidner’s official title is Industrial Hygienist, however, because of her expertise in the field, she was recently selected to fill a temporary detail position of “Occupational Safety and Health Specialist” in the Safety Office. She will develop and update approximately 40 new safety programs including the Confined Space Program, Fall Protection Program, Respiratory Protection Program and Ergonomics.
“My goal is to create comprehensive safety programs that other districts may use as templates to ensure compliance with federal environmental safety and health regulations,” Weidner said. “This particular audit is very aggressive and the Buffalo District is the pilot district. I’d like the programs we generate to benefit other districts as they follow us in the audit process,” she added.
Becoming an expert in the area of occupational safety and health requires extensive training and experience in the field. Ms. Weidner gained much of her experience working for the Defense Contractors in Rockville, MD, the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, in Norfolk, Virginia and with the Veteran’s Administration in Bath, NY. Her experience included extensive field sampling, facility inspections as well as program management such as Hearing Conservation, Respiratory Protection Program Manager, Asbestos Program Manager, and Ergonomics Program Management.
“Safety programs are essential for every type of work we do,” said Bill Pioli, Buffalo District Safety Manager. “Part of the audit process is to establish clear lines of communication so that we address issues quickly and consistently.”
“One of the most important aspects of developing safety programs is that they are preventative—most accidents are preventable just by implementing common sense practices,” said Ms. Weidner. “Having procedures to follow eliminates the confusion about what you should or shouldn’t do—it’s already determined for you.”
Safety programs are ever-changing as new protective equipment becomes available and improved best practices become mainstream. Performing self-audits encourages readiness—a tenet of the military. When the Corps of Engineers does work in your neighborhood, you can be assured knowing that safety is one of the organization's top priorities.