What is commercial diving?
Commercial (also called professional) diving is an occupation that involves underwater construction, scientific research, etc. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), commercial divers are subject to a multitude of accidents and injuries. Offshore diving, a branch of professional diving, is used by the oil and gas industry in the exploration and production sector. Divers receive special training and are used mainly in the Gulf of Mexico. Although any type of professional diving is dangerous, offshore diving is one of the most hazardous occupations in the professional diving industry.
Commercial Diving Health Risks
According to OSHA, commercial divers are exposed to a variety of health concerns. Like recreational divers, offshore divers are subject to drowning, circulatory problems, hypothermia, and respiratory issues. Additionally, they may suffer injuries related to construction including fire injuries, burn injuries, crush injuries, and other accidents. Because of decreased visibility and other environmental factors, offshore construction, and demolition is significantly more dangerous than construction and demolition that takes place on dry land.
OSHA and Commercial Diving Accidents
Because of the innate risks involved in commercial diving, OSHA has an extensive set of rules, regulations, and guidelines employers must follow in order to make sure that their employees are kept safe while diving. For example, the employer and the diving team must meet specific qualifications. Generally speaking, the dive team must have the experience and training necessary to perform the task that they were hired to complete. If the job requires the use of specific tools, every member of the dive team must know how to use them.
Additionally, each team member should be familiar with diving operations and emergency procedures. Any team member that will be exposed to hyperbaric conditions must be trained in diving-related physics and physiology. Any team member in control of hyperbaric conditions is required by OSHA to receive the same training. Each member of the diving team should be assigned tasks and duties that align with the employee’s level of training. Additionally, an employee cannot be exposed to hyperbaric conditions against his/her will unless the employee needs decompression treatment.
Employers are required to comply with OSHA standards before, during and after a dive. Before the dive, the employer must provide emergency aid and the telephone numbers of accessible hospitals, available physicians, an operation decompression chamber, an available means of transportation, and the nearest United States Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center. During the dive, the employer must provide divers with a way to enter and exit the water safely. Additionally, the employer must provide a way to help injured divers out of the water.
According to OSHA, professional divers are at risk of suffering a variety of unique health concerns. For example, dysbarisms are one of the most common health concerns faced by commercial and professional divers. What is dysbarism? In short, it is a medical condition with a multitude of complicated symptoms that usually results from an individual being exposed to rapid changes in ambient pressure. For example, if a diver is several hundred feet underwater, his/her body is under a great deal of ambient pressure. If the diver swims to the surface too quickly, he/she may suffer from dysbarism because of the rapidly changing atmospheric pressure.
Dysbarisms can be identified by a variety of symptoms. One of the most common forms of dysabmarism is decompression sickness (DCS). In short DCS occurs when in when inert gas bubbles are subjected to decreased pressure. Because of this, DCS usually occurs shortly after a dive has taken place. OSHA has published several manuals designed to helping employers make sure that their employees do not suffer from DCS. When precautions are taken, DCS and other health risks related to commercial and professional diving can be avoided. Individuals suffering from DCS or another form dysbarism may suffer breathing difficulties, confusion, and joint pain.
Generally speaking, DCS is the most common form of dysbarism and is usually caused by gas bubbles forming in one or more locations of the diver’s body. For example, if gas bubbles begin to form in the diver’s joints, he/she may experience joint pain. This symptom is called the bends. Similarly, if a diver develops bubbles in the spine or head, he/she may experience staggers. Staggers is symptomized by dizziness and confusion. Bubbles may also form in the chest or skin. Bubbles form in the diver’s chest is referred to as chokes and can be identified by coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Although mild forms of DCS may be treated at the dive site, DCS may also be a life-threatening condition.