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Posted 9/18/2014

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By Eileen Williamson, Public Affairs Specialist
Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


Crews performing a repair contract at Big Bend Dam recently held an exercise to practice safely rescuing a worker who has become incapacitated in their work area.

Contractor J.F. Brennan is repairing the spillway gates at Big Bend Dam near Chamberlain, S.D.

Big Bend Dam’s spillway gates hold back water from Lake Sharpe entering the Missouri River. In 2011, runoff in the upper Missouri River Basin resulted in the gates being opened, and the force of water flowing through the spillway caused damages to the eight 40-foot-wide by 38-foot-tall tainter-style spillway gates and structural concrete.

The $4.1 million design-build contract to repair the spillway gates was awarded to contractor J.F. Brennan Sept. 19, 2012. Their designer of record is Barr Engineering.

The project includes creating a 3-D model of the gates. The model provides USACE and the contractor member classification for repair prioritization, design repair details and procedures, weld repairs and member repairs. In addition to these structural repairs, work also includes side and bottom seal replacement, wire rope replacement, rehabilitation of side seal heaters, cathodic protection replacement, concrete repairs and abrasive blasting and painting the spillway gates. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of April 2015.

During the safety exercise, a mannequin, playing the part of an incapacitated worker who was overcome by paint fumes, needed to be rescued from an area 25 feet above the spillway concrete and 50 feet from the nearest mechanical lift. Once the team extracted the mannequin from the work area, they faced the additional challenge of moving it out of the spillway over the 20-foot-high wing wall using the lift and providing first aid while getting medical attention in a remote location.

Although the project takes place near the water, stoplogs are in place while the gates are on temporary gate stands and most work is not performed above water. This means that while the crews are aware of water safety requirements, personal floatation devices typically are not required to be used on the project. But, safety remains a project priority.

The vinyl paint system used to paint the tainter gates is high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which if overexposed to the fumes, could cause a worker to become dizzy or incapacitated. The blasting equipment used to remove old paint or rust and the paint equipment includes the most up-to-date safety equipment. The contractor constantly monitors the level of VOCs within the contained area where the work is performed. The containment area is a confined space and there are restrictions on who can enter, when they can enter and the safety equipment they need to use while in the area. Regardless of these precautions, exposure to VOCs and preventative safety measures acknowledge that there is always the potential for an accident to occur.

"Planning and testing are required for emergency situations, and J.F. Brennan's corporate safety program goes beyond that by conducting monthly rescue drills for confined spaces and fall rescue," said Patricia Lambert, USACE project manager.

The best way to prepare to respond to emergencies is before they happen. "It is excellent that J.F. Brennan is taking response planning a step further by holding monthly practice drills to keep employees prepared and evaluate the effectiveness of their emergency action plan," said Jeff Skrivanek, Omaha District Chief of Safety and Occupational Health.

This was the contractor's third safety drill since the project began in May 2014. The first exercise enacted a confined space rescue with a victim on the floor of the containment area. During each rescue exercise, employees focus on safely transporting the victim from containment to an area where they can be accessed by emergency personnel. Rescues include using a spine board and aerial lift in moving the victim. The second safety exercise offered crews the opportunity to use trauma straps, which were issued at the start of the project. Workers experienced being suspended in a harness after a fall, and then deployed their trauma straps before being lowered to the spillway. "We strive to learn from mistakes during drills and discuss how we can work more safely and improve for future drills," said Vic Buhr, the Site Safety and Health Officer for J.F. Brennan.