Some of the work the Corps of Engineers performs may have significant health and safety risks associated with it. The potential risks to workers' safety are indeed so high in some projects that a safety representative may have to be on site at all times to ensure employees and contractors are conducting operations according to established safety parameters. The Corps of Engineers is always updating existing safety programs and actively works to create new programs as needed. 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 performs routine safety audits on their own procedures to make sure they are in alignment with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA publishes safety regulations on their website. 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 lead hygienist of the formerly utilized sites remedial action program (FUSRAP) in the Buffalo District. Congress provides funds for the FUSRAP appropriation in an effort to eliminate the environmental risks 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 hazards that chemicals can pose, we make sure that our employees and our contractors are properly equipped with adequate safety gear to minimize their exposure to them," 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 "Occupational Safety and Health Specialist" and because of her expertise in the field, she was recently selected to fill a temporary detail position to assist in a major safety and occupational health audit. She will develop approximately 40 new safety programs to include topics ranging from ergonomics, lift handling equipment (i.e., cranes) safety, how to fall safely, and confined space entry (preparing workers to know what spaces they should or should not enter).

"My goal is to create comprehensive programs that other Districts may benefit from as well," Weidner said. "This particular audit is very aggressive and the Buffalo District is the pilot district. I'd like the programs we establish over the next few months to be so detailed that other districts can rely on them for their own safety programs," 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 Navy Medical Center of Portsmith, in Norfolk Virginia and with the Veteran's Administration. Her experience included asbestos management, hazardous waste monitoring, noise hazard, respiratory hazards, and general work safety protocol.

"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 organizations' top priorities.