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Corps Certifies 10 Confined Space Instructors

Students practice using a self-retractable lifeline and retrieval winch on a fall protection tripod.

Posted on December 16, 2020

When Willie Maynard, Lockmaster at New Cumberland Locks and Dam, is asked to describe the most difficult confined space he ever encountered, he often refers to the crossover located at U.S. Army Corps’ of Engineers Pittsburgh District’s Emsworth Locks and Dams on the Ohio River.

The crossover is a 110-foot tunnel under the lock chamber containing gas lines, water and sewage pipes, and electrical lines. To access the crossover, water needs to be pumped out before a person can be put in a full-body harness and lowered 75-feet down by a tripod through a manhole.

“The crossover at Emsworth is challenging because it leaks so badly that water gushes in on you the whole time, even though it’s being pumped out,” says Maynard.

In his 38 years working for the district, he has encountered countless confined spaces including the sewage tanks at Dashields and New Cumberland Locks and Dam. With all his experience working in confined spaces, Maynard jumped at the opportunity to become a confined space instructor for the corps.

“It’s best to train our corps employees to become certified instructors because we are familiar with our equipment and facilities,” says Matthew Ehrin, Safety and Occupational Health Specialist. “The goal is to have a confined-space, competent person at every site in the district.”

To reach that goal, a confined space train-the-trainer class took place, Dec. 1, at the warehouse on Neville Island, PA. Mine Safety Applications instructor-led the two-day, hands-on training for 10 Pittsburgh district employees using a tailored course curriculum designed specifically applicable to district workplaces. The space was ideally designed for the use of hoists, tripods and rope systems to simulate real-life scenarios.

“Each student has a lot of experience working with confined spaces,” Ehrin said. “With everyone having a lot of background information, it really helped feed into the class, making it a success.”

Because of the nature of the corps’ operation and the facilities’ design, confined spaces are typical. Therefore, employees need to enter these areas to perform maintenance or inspections. Many factors are taken into consideration before entering a confined space to ensure operations are performed safely. The class identified physical hazards, types of atmospheric conditions, emergency evacuations and when to obtain a permit before entry.

“This course was a great hands-on experience using corps equipment and meters,” said Maynard. “During the course, I was introduced to a rope system to be used in a rescue attempt as the last resort. This is something new the district never used before.”

Thanks to the course, the district has 10 certified-confined space instructors who are subject matter experts. They will educate and bring awareness amongst employees to adhere to maintaining safe operations.

Instructors require recertification every two years, along with an annual refresher training to maintain the certification.


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