Commercial divers are 40 times more likely to be killed on the job than all other workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, because commercial diving is listed as a “non-hazardous” work group, no formal regulations are in place to protect divers. With the continuous growth in oil and gas exploration, the number of commercial diving fatalities will continue to increase. There are between 5,500 and 7,500 commercial divers working at any given time in the U.S. Despite this relatively low number, the high percentage of deaths in the field of diving highlights the need for regulation and increased safety.
Basic safety requirements include the need for commercial diving persons-in-charge and diving supervisors to fully meet their responsibilities prescribed in the Code of Federal Regulation, 46 CFR 197 Subpart B. This government regulation represents the floor rather than ceiling with regard to safety requirements in this field. Further, the Coast Guard has yet to institute any safety regulations pertaining to commercial diving. Where the federal government lacks, private employers should require more safety measures.
Prior to any commercial dive, any unusual hazards or environmental conditions likely to affect the safety of the diving operation should be fully explored. There should not only be instructions to report problems, but also a full reminder of what physical ailments divers could potentially face. Maintenance of the dive equipment is also crucial to safety. Peter Pilkington continues to lobby for Coast Guard regulations of commercial diving after an investigation revealed that poor maintenance of a generator caused a diving incident that led to his son’s death. A shop rag, used as a filter, was burned after being sucked into a filter, which sent smoke and carbon monoxide into his son’s diving helmet and ultimately led to his death. The failing compressor was not the only hazard on the dive that killed Pilkington’s son. There was also no backup equipment or air line, and no additional scuba tanks, and no one available to help Pilkington’s son underwater.
In addition to safety procedures and checklists, the assignments and responsibilities of each dive team member for each diving mode used must be clearly defined and adequately staffed. Treatment protocols for any commercial diver injured on the job must also be in place prior to an emergency. As demonstrated in the death of Pilkington, back up equipment is crucial in the event of an offshore accident. Considering the dangers associated with commercial diving, the difficulty with rescue operations, and the dangerous tools used by divers, such as welding equipment and explosives, the importance of safety cannot be overlooked.
If you are a commercial diver who has been injured on the job, do not hesitate to contact the offshore injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin for a free consultation.