discussion on uscg and scuba regulations
Post on 14-Jul-2015
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Thank you all for the discussion.
Sometimes your initial statement has to be black and white in order to engender an intelligent discussion
of a subject which contains all sorts of grey areas. No matter what your belief or opinion or experience is
there is always going to be someone else who has experienced and believes exactly the opposite.
I want it to be clear though, in reading the comments here1 we are deviating from the point of my initial
post and that is USCG regulation as it applies to offshore diving. Because one place where we all agree it
has next to no value is in offshore applications. When our concern turns to inland application, however,
thats where the gray areas begin and debate is worthwhile.
A little history:
On February 19th 2015, the Department of Homeland Security opened for comment their proposed
rulemaking, in other words they are looking to update Commercial Diving regulations. This has been a
tedious and slow process which began in 1998, at a time when the regulations were already 20 years and
had already begun to show their age.
When an agency proposes regulations or to update existing regulations it is usually to improve safety,
and to reflect industry best practices; spurred into action because they feel the market has failed to reach
a socially optimal outcome2, this means there are costs being incurred from lack of safety, costs which
affect others, instead of the responsible parties. It is also because a problem has been encountered
which the government believes is large enough to require their involvement. There is no specific rule that
can be applied to determine whether a problem is large enough to justify government action, but
consideration is given in part to the ability of the affected group to take action themselves to address the
We have not addressed the problem. We continue to have fatalities, and serious injuries which could
have been easily prevented. From the very first advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) issued
in 1998, a committee was formed (National Safety Advisory Committee, a federal advisory committee
made up of individual contributors on up) to perform an in depth analysis of current regulations and issue
their recommendations. Since 2008 one of NOSACs first recommendations was to remove SCUBA
diving entirely from the USCG regulations as it should not be used as an offshore commercial application.
The NOSAC (of which I am a member since 2013) has issued a second and updated set of
recommendations, and continues to push for the removal of SCUBA diving from USCG regulations. I tell
you this so you see I am not just one lone madwoman out there with this opinion.
In their in depth analysis for the proposed rulemaking, the USCG has a table which shows USCG
regulated commercial diving by Type and Firm composition. Their estimate for SCUBA diving in offshore
applications is 5%. Simply put, looking at my graphs again, when you think that 5% of the industry is
responsible for approximately 30% of fatalities, this should put it in perspective!
There is mention of regulation and my familiarity or lack thereof with it. We are in agreement that
regulation or not, these instances resulting in fatalities were already in violation of existing regulations to
begin with. We also surely agree that most injuries and fatalities result because multiple regulations were
ignored. Both OSHA and USCG make no mention of required communications with the SCUBA diver.
https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=2162519&type=member&item=5978112939624845315&trk=groups_most_recent-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmr_2162519 2 From USCG Docket USCG-1998-3786
OSHA mentions line pull signals only. Yes, both require the diver to be line-tended, one to greater extent
than the other, and that a standby diver be available (not at the ready- just available), etc. So my
argument is simple: if the SCUBA diver can be line tended then a surface supplied air diver can do the
work. OSHA even makes specific mention of the points which I noted; and I quote: Because a SCUBA
diver has a limited breathing supply, does not usually have voice communication, and often is not
monitored or controlled by surface-support personnel3... they go on to say that for these reasons they are
being more conservative with the regulations, but that is debatable. As for the flexibility of manning, Im
sorry if I gave the impression I am not familiar with the regulations, my comment is reflecting the attitude
of many, it was not meant to reflect what I believe or what I would do. The regulations do become vague
in the manning of SCUBA, and companies purposely further blur that line. OSHA requires a three man
dive team, and the DPIC can or not, be a diver. Their definition of a dive team also does not necessarily
require all divers it can be support individuals. I have known of instances where this means the use of a
local plant individual assigned to support activities- tending included. Yes, these, in your eye would be
violations, but if you read the regulations, it is more likely just an abuse of the definitions with no way to
enforce it even if one spoke up because after all, it is all in compliance. The USCG waffles on reserve air
supply. I would interpret it that any SCUBA diving requires reserve breathing supply, but at one point it
says its only required if diving deeper than 130ft. My point here is that as they stand, the regulations are
open for interpretation as well, meaning incidents can occur and it would all still be in compliance of
regulations and business as usual.
There is an interesting point here as well; some of you who are in defense of SCUBA also admit that you
go above and beyond regulations, because? Well, because obviously its the only way to do it safely!
Communications are not mandated by regulation yet you use them, for example.
The only way to goad our regulator into improving regulations is engendering this kind of debate, because
it is obvious that the existing regulations are inadequate. Dericks experience with SCUBA seems to me
no regulations were broken and yet it proved to him that it is the wrong mode of diving to select.
Sometimes we need to be careful in telling someone not to get a skewed impression based on one event.
One event should be enough to change our way to prevent it repeating. One event is all it would take if
you lost your loved one, for you to not want it repeated. One event is all it took for the power plant where I
work and the dive company I used to work for to both realize that they needed to vastly improve their
safety standards and culture, and they both did. On one event alone we eradicated some ways of doing
things. My thoughts on SCUBA is that when you have a diver who cant communicate and runs into
trouble, tended or not, there will be a delay in knowing s/he needs assistance. In S/S air our protocol is
not to splash the standby diver until we have ascertained we are not placing him in danger as well- so
how do you know with SCUBA? If you followed all the regulations, he may not be using an AGA, and he
may be entangled so there is no line pulls to aid you, therefore you have no way of knowing what the
potential issue may be. This is backed up by the fact that there are, indeed, quite a few incidents where
the rescue diver or even divers encountered trouble, becoming injured or also dying in the process. There
are incidents where there were two divers in the water acting as buddies and both died or were injured as
was the rescue diver sent to aid the two divers.
In addition, we continue with the debate about applicability of USCG regulation. Their regulations are
currently focused on offshore application. However the jurisdiction of the USCG includes any USCG
inspected vessel in the US. This then includes many lakes and rivers. The gray area begins with the
inspected and uninspected vessels. OSHA will have jurisdiction for commercial diving operations taking
place from an uninspected vessel and doing work on an inspected vessel (such as hull scrubbing and
repairs), yet when the dive location is on an inspected vessel then the USCG regulations apply. What this
confusion means to me is twofold: One, if the USCG is so convinced that their regulations only apply to
deep water work then SCUBA should not be included, TWO, because of the inspected vessel, I know for
a fact many inland companies reference and follow USCG regulations and include them in their Conduct
of Diving. For this reason I do include and share here details of fatalities which occurred inland as well.
No matter how you look at it, it is not best practice. SCUBA is just not the best option, period. Not when
we dont even have commercial certification for it, yet we regulate it under commercial standards. I do
agree with you Neil, that the answer would be a proper commercial SCUBA certification. But for the time
being, If SCUBA is removed from USCG regulation, clients may be less likely to blatantly disregard a
regulation in its entirety, rather than find a gray area, or turn the other way when they hire a co