Contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District install a 23-foot-tall concrete shaft enclosure weighing approximately 120,000 pounds as part of the guard wall at the Monongahela River Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Nov. 16, 2023.

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USACE recognizes innovative Kentucky Lock operator

Nashville District
Published Jan. 26, 2024
Updated: Jan. 25, 2024
Two men shake hands

Lt. Col. Robert W. Green, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, presents a coin for excellence to Brad Marshall, lock operator at Kentucky Lock in Grand Rivers, Kentucky, for his work on a device to hoist heavy ropes inside of the lock chamber that earned him a USACE Innovation Award. The commander recognized him Jan. 23, 2024, in front of employees at the district headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. (USACE Photo by Leon Roberts)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Senior Lock and Dam Equipment Mechanic Brad Marshall, of Kentucky Lock, was recently recognized with the 2023 USACE Innovation of the Year Award.

Marshall developed a hoist mechanism for lock lines, reducing the risk of back, hand and wrist injury. The new device allows Lock Operators to safely retrieve and lift heavy lock lines, which are at times wet or frozen.

Following an employee fall from a ladder and an extensive review process, the Nashville District announced that all embedded ladders at their numerous navigation locks that are more than 24-feet-high and lacking OSHA compliance would be for emergency use only. However, ladder accessibility is necessary for line handling, or using ropes to navigate a vessel through a lock.

Therefore, USACE began providing line handling personnel at Kentucky Lock to compensate for the lack of ladders. Line handling is a new task for USACE operators and presents new physical challenges. Lock lines are heavy and can be difficult to hoist 25-35 feet in the air. Hoisting a lock line typically involves throwing a line to a deckhand who will tie it to another line. The operator must then hoist the heavy line, hand over fist, to the top of the wall. This can mean lifting 30 feet of wet, frozen cotton rope. After hoisting the line, it is held in place while the other line is removed and manipulated. There are multiple points of potential injury during the entire process.

“I go to my office, I sit down, and I’m thinking, how am I going to solve this?,” said Caleb Skinner, Supervisory Navigation Facility specialist at Kentucky and Barkley Locks. “I called Brad Marshall into my office and said I’ve got a problem, explained the problem, and that was all I did.”

The device Marshall developed eliminates all these hazards. “This is a new problem that I’ve never had to deal with, and it will most likely evolve into something different than it is now,” said Marshall. “This is version 1.0 out of who knows how many revisions.”

The impacts of the lock line hoisting device created by Marshall focuses primarily on safety. It is mounted on a track and smoothly rolls along to winch up the heavy lines. It prevents injury and inefficiency from any dropped lines. Safety improvements like this save the government money by avoiding expensive lost time and potential medical bills, and most importantly, make it safer for employees.

“Brad’s got one of the greatest creative minds, honestly, I’ve ever seen,” said Skinner.

Though Marshall acknowledged the work needed to improve his invention, he was proud of its current iteration.

“It is an absolute honor to receive this award,” Marshall said. “I feel I went above and beyond the bare requirements presented to me and it’s good to be recognized for my efforts.”

The USACE Innovation of the Year Award is for those who successfully introduce innovative ideas, processes or projects.

Chick Lock

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