HAZMAT Dangers: Decontaminating Properly


Water is rarely contaminant free.

Even in water that appears quite clean, there’s often a mixture of diluted chemicals, solids and smaller molecules unseen to the naked eye. In water with less visibility, water cleanliness is even harder to gauge.

Underwater welders involved in HAZMAT must be aware of their environment. Sometimes, the water isn’t contaminated enough to be considered “HAZMAT”, but still has some cause for concern.

Construction workers should not step foot on a tall structure without assurance of proper foundation. Likewise, divers should always ask their supervisors if the water has been tested for contaminants.

Obviously, you as the welder-diver are directly affected by anything in the water.

Jumping in: Diving Equipment in Hazardous Situations

Before underwater welders even step off into the water, they should be wearing a dry suit, rubber gloves (often with a pair or two of medical gloves underneath them), sealed neck and joint areas. All tools must be attached to their person along a utility belt or other means.

If the water is considered “lightly” contaminated, you may only need a full face mask, not a full dive helmet.

All tests on the water will be conducted before you go in. If you don’t have the proper equipment to seal off all parts of your body, ask for assistance from your employer. If they don’t have proper equipment, it’s time to turn the job over to a different underwater welder.

If you’re unsure of your equipment, contact the equipment manufacturer to determine what types of tests they’ve conducted on it.

Unfortunately, manufacturers cannot test their equipment against every single contaminant in the water. As this article states, there’s a couple of reasons for that:

  1. Liability: Many variables exist such as contaminant strength and distribution in the water. That means that a manufacturer may face a lawsuit if they claim their equipment can ward off a specific chemical but are unable in one specific case.
  2. Multiple Tests: Again, with these variables, maritime company manufacturers simply can’t test every chemical in ever conceivable situation.

Contaminant case in point: Strong agents like chlorine that are distributed into water tanks will cause the ph level to drop below seven. If you remember from your chemistry class, this means the water is more acidic than basic. Strong acids can eat through certain types of material.

Though chlorine was their to keep you clean? There’s a lot more to that equation.

Million Threats: Making Contact with Contaminants

Coming into contact with harmful chemicals, radiation or other material can certainly take a toll on the human body. This applies to both the diver and those who may come in contact with him or her during the decontamination process.

Some of the ways you can come into contact include:

  • Ingestion
  • Blood (cuts)
  • Open sores
  • Under fingernails
  • Eyes/nose/ears

This can result in symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nose-running, bloodshot eyes. Some chemicals are much more harmful, resulting in organ failures, lack of blood flow and blood clots, and ultimately death.

Hey, just being real here.

Dive Decontamination Process: Safe Practice & Equipment

As is tradition, the divers who are lowest on the career ladder (referred to as “dive tenders” in the US) is often the one left with decontamination. Usually, it takes at least a couple for legal and physical reasons.

Divers must witness the decontamination process to make sure they’ve done it properly. Also, when spraying them down, one helper usually holds the sprayer while another examines the suit and equipment for any holes, tears or other issues.

Other staff members may be on standby to inspect the process.

All those involved in decontamination should wear protection. HAZMAT suits aren’t just for looks (though they do look pretty cool). They protect all parties involved. These HAZMAT suits are usually issued by the dive company, since divers aren’t necessarily aware as to when they’ll be part of this process.

Wearing the HAZMAT suit is a lot less complicated than a full “HAZMAT-ready” dive suit. It’s a little more work, but it may save you health issues down the road.

There are also different levels of protection, which may not all require complete sealant when cleaning off the underwater welder. A dive safety officer can provide more detailed instructions for you, depending on the dive project.

Besides equipment, it’s also useful to know where the source of water is coming from that you’re cleaning off the underwater welder with. If it contains solutions that will react strongly with the diver’s contamination, this is no good.

The decontaminate site should be small and easily contained in case there are problems. The “drainage” should go somewhere that won’t further contaminate a water source. A medical personnel (preferably Diver Medical Technician) should be on hand in case the underwater welder is unknowingly contaminated and experiences health problems.

Air movement should also be taken into consideration. Which way is it moving, and will it be moving the contaminants along with it?

These practices are all essential for a safe decontamination process. Think of the diver, surrounding dive team and everyone else involved in decontamination.



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