USACE Contractor Prioritizes People with Kentucky Lock Safety Milestone

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District in partnership with project contractor, Thalle Construction, surpassed one million man-hours without a lost time accident on the Kentucky Lock Addition project May 3, 2024.


In simpler terms, for every hour worked by a construction contractor employee at the jobsite the project accrues a man-hour. A lost time accident is a mishap with a severity that requires the employee to miss one or more days of work to recover.

Lt. Col. Robert W. Green, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, chats with Thalle Construction Company and Tully Group officials about the safety milestone reached of 500,000 hours without a lost-time incident Oct. 17, 2023, at the Kentucky Lock Addition Project in Grand Rivers, Tennessee. USACE PHOTO BY VANESSA RUDD

For everyone involved in the project, especially Chris Byrne, Kentucky Lock Resident Office safety specialist, it means “we take safety seriously, and we can show the results.”

But how does a project of this size, with over 350 workers split over two shifts, achieve such a milestone? By putting safety first.

“Primarily, the contractor set in place a strong safety program and a strong group of safety staff, and the workforce is trained on, and reminded of, safe work practices on an on-going basis,” Byrne said.

Another unique aspect is the USACE staff.

“The Corps of Engineers is committed to safety, and we’ve resourced two full-time safety specialists to this project, which is unusual,” said Jeremiah Manning, Kentucky Lock Resident Office resident chief engineer. “That’s a big part of why we have such a good environment out here and we have a group of people who are focused on making safety an important aspect of this job day in and day out.”

The good work environment and partnership between USACE and Thalle Construction began early spring 2022.

Ongoing construction at the Kentucky Lock mega project in February, 2024. USACE PHOTO BY MATTHEW DYMAN

“Thalle Construction has demonstrated a strong commitment to safety throughout every level of their organization,” Manning said. “They have resourced competent safety professionals to the project and have had very little turnover.”

Another important facet is the implementation of a monthly safety focus group made up of USACE, Thalle Construction and the local craft workers hired to build the project.


This meeting allows for them to focus on the holistic cycle of Plan – Do – Check – Act.

“It’s so important that we deliver the project, so we have to have a great safety program. Otherwise, we’re at risk of safety stopping the project,” Manning said.

Ongoing training and coordination with outside agencies also contributed to this achievement.

“We were able to leverage training resources from suppliers and vendors to have them come out and do demonstrations, so that the workforce can get a look at what it is they will actually be using,” Byrne said.

The team also frequently collaborates with local first responders to develop emergency response programs in case situations occur.

USACE also credits the use of a robust mishap reporting program that captures lessons learned from every incident for this accomplishment. As the project continues, they create a history and log of occurrences with the Project Mishap Incident Report, which allows them to review month to month and year to year.

“In reality, we’re doing an ongoing series of evaluations of the project, an ongoing series of evaluations of the hazards that we can get into in this project, and an ongoing series of what are we going to do to keep ourselves safe,” Byrne said.

This constant checking and rechecking allows everyone to learn from their mistakes and improve the work environment. By putting safety first, they can continue with everything else.

Thalle Construction Company workers enjoy lunch Oct. 17, 2023, while celebrating 500,000 labor hours without a lost-time accident at the Kentucky Lock Addition Project on the Tennessee River in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. USACE PHOTO BY VANESSA RUDD

“We never sacrifice safety,” Manning said. “So, when you’re talking safety, it’s hard to use that term balance, but I think we always start with a focus on safety and try to back into what we need to do to accomplish the work.”

For the Kentucky Lock Addition project, all USACE high-hazards are present in the scope of work being performed. These include hazardous energy control, fall protection, load handling equipment, occupational health and underwater diving.

“We recognize that we’re never going to get to zero risk because if we do, we’re going to stand around, look at each other, and nothing’s going to get done,” Byrne said. “So, we have to look at what is the risk here? Could we lessen that risk and how far down can we bring it?” Byrne said.

Undertaking that hazard is why the team leverages the tenets of the Army’s Risk Management Process.

“That’s what risk management is, at the end of the day, we’re going to do hazardous things, but we’re going to do them safely or safely as we reasonably can,” Manning said. “I think a constant focus on that allows us to continually do hazardous things in a way that allows everybody to go home at night.”

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