KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A Lansing-based engineering firm faces more $100,000 in fines for willfully violating diving safety regulations when a 49 year-old diver drowned during a July 2021 dam inspection in Allegan County, according to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).
Following a nearly year-long investigation, MIOSHA fined Great Lakes Engineering Group LLC $119,000 for multiple violations of safety protocols, according to a MIOSHA report obtained by News Channel 3.
Brian Trahey, 49, was swept away in turbulent waters and drowned during an underwater inspection of the Calkins Bridge Dam on July 7, 2021, authorities said.
The MIOSHA investigation resulted in nine violations of the state rules for safe diving practices established in 1910. A $70,000 violation, the most severe, found Great Lakes Engineering Group willfully disregarded diving safety rules by not line tendering 49-year old Brian Trahey or his diving partner to land during the downstream scuba dive.
A team of five Great Lakes Engineering Group employees failed to keep continuous visual contact with Trahey and the second diver while they completed their underwater inspection tasks, investigators said.
Trahey's body was discovered 200 yards from the dam structure hours after he was swept away, authorities said.
MIOSHA's investigation revealed the company's history of failing to line tender during scuba diving or maintaining continuous visual contact with the divers.
The report also noted previous instances of divers being swept away from a dive location by water currents.
"On previous occasions, employees had been swept downstream by water currents, and the employer had no specific policies in place to prevent or respond to such incidents," the MIOSHA report said.
The $119,000 fine is the maximum allowable under state regulations and is designed to have a deterrent effect against the company, MIOSHA said in its investigative report.
"Based on the report, this has been a systematic problem," said Phillip Newsum, executive director for the Association of Diving Contractors International. "Which makes it a lot easier to understand why the penalty is the amount that it is."
Trahey was an employee of Great Lakes Engineering and husband of the company’s president, Amy Trahey. Great Lakes Engineering business development manager Tom See declined to comment on the fine and violations Thursday.
"There's some huge gaps in how this operator should have been done safety. This is not consistent with best industry practices," Newsum said.
The MIOSHA report included a list of eight violations classified as "serious."
Violations included failing to properly prepare diving equipment for underwater conditions and hazards on July 7, 2021. The company also faces a violation for the loss of visual and verbal communication between two divers and their dive team members during the dive.
"Despite the inability to quickly re-establish communication, the working interval of the dive was not terminated," according to the report.
The company was cited for having a standby diver who was not prepared or equipped to act, and not having a rescue boat readily available. The rescue boat and trailer were staged in a fenced-in area approximately 2/3 of a mile from where it was launched, investigators said.
Four commercials divers were killed nationwide since 2020, according to federal safety records compiled by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Calkins Bridge Dam, a hydro-electric structure, is owned by operated by Consumers Energy.
"Consumers Energy does not generally comment on working relationships we have with contractors or MIOSHA findings regarding another company," a Consumers Energy spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. "We own and operate 13 dams on five Michigan rivers which are closely monitored by our river hydro team, licensed by the Federal Regulatory Commission, complete required inspections and follow all safety regulations."
Brian Trahey was an experienced diver who had completed more than 1,000 dives on Michigan bridges and dams, according to Great Lakes Engineering Group.
According to its website, Great Lakes Engineering Group provides underwater bridge inspection services for federal, state, and local agencies along with private clients.
The company has certified bridge inspection dive team leaders, engineer divers, and tenders, according to its website.