Hazardous materials (Hazmat) divers have exceptionally dangerous jobs. They work in precarious conditions, and regularly expose themselves to radioactive material. However, the extreme dangers these divers face are minimized through intense training, durable commercial dive gear, and thorough decontamination processes.
Many bodies of water contain some sort of contamination, whether it be minimal or consequential. HAZMAT divers, due to their high level of contaminant exposure, require specialized commercial dive gear, as well as intensive decontamination procedures, to ensure their general safety.
For divers working in mildly-contaminated water, gloves, a utility belt, and a simple dry suit with a sealed neck should suffice. For water that is ‘lightly’ contaminated, a full face mask is recommended.
Divers working in exceptionally dirty and/or hazardous conditions require a full dive helmet, a stronger suit, and other specialized commercial dive gear. For example, the Thor Contaminated Water Diving Suit is built for highly contaminated water, and features vulcanized rubber that is strong enough to resist contaminants, and pliable enough to accomplish critical underwater tasks.
For full-on hazardous material tasks, like those involving radioactive material, a full HAZMAT-ready suit may be required.
The Decontamination Process
No matter how strong your protective suit, and commercial dive gear may be, decontamination procedures are crucial. Not only are these processes necessary to ensure the diver’s safety, but they also protect the team, and anyone else who may be within chemical or radioactive reach of the decontamination area.
Decontamination procedures vary from job to job as the chemical, and HAZMAT profile for each dive area will be different. The more hazardous the elements in the water, the more thorough the decontamination process will be. However, the process also depends on the type of equipment used, and the level of protection the equipment offers.
Here are a few things to remember about the decontamination process:
- Decontamination areas should be set up in zones: High-contamination zones to remove the bulk of HAZMAT materials; Low-contamination zones to work as a buffer; and a final safe zone, ideally located upwind, that will be entirely free of hazardous materials.
- The high-contamination zone needs to be in a water-impermeable area where potential contaminants can be captured, and properly disposed of. During this stage, the diver will be rinsed with fresh water from a high-pressure system. If fresh water is unavailable, salt water can be used as a substitute.
- A cleaning solution may be required. Although the exact mixture depends on the contaminants present, a 5% bleach solution is most frequently used.
- Either long or short-handled wire brushes are used to clean the diver. Short-handled brushes are ideal for more intricate cleaning.
- Generally, the decontamination process involves more than one person—one to spray and clean the diver, and another to look for holes or other compromises in the dive suit fabric.
Ready, Set, Dive
Although HAZMAT divers face several dangers within their profession, safety risks can be minimized through proper HAZMAT commercial dive gear, and decontamination procedures. With the proper training and certification, potential issues or concerns can be put at ease.
To learn more about HAZMAT diving equipment, and the options currently available, be sure to give us a call at Aqua-Air Industries today. We have a wide range of commercial diving products that can aid in HAZMAT and other diving jobs.