Despite expert opinion to the contrary, it would seem that recreational diving is perceived to be unsafe. Consequently, regulatory bodies have stepped in to look after us with the draft Australian/New Zealand Standard, DR 00219. The response to this closed on 30/9/00. The draft includes a subtle shift of responsibility from the individual diver getting properly trained, to dive supervisors assessing their competence. These standards are unlikely to make diving safer because they do not appear to currently address the central issue of adequate training. They are more likely to drive smaller operators out of business making it harder and more expensive for us to go diving.
The following is quoted from my report on the “SAFER LIMITS 2000”, Hyperbaric Workshop, held at the Wesley Hospital, Brisbane, 5-6 September 2000.
Based on this assessment by hyperbaric professionals, it would seem that the use of the DIVE COMPUTER, not regulations, has made diving safer, and that accidents are the result of inadequate training for the conditions encountered by the diver.
Consequently, the proposed standards are unlikely to have any significant effect on the number of diving accidents, as they do not appear to currently address the central issue of adequate training of recreational divers.
Assessment of Competence
The draft standards are based on the Queensland Compressed Air Recreational Diving and Recreational Snorkelling Industry Code of Practice.
The ominous section 2.11.5 (a) states that “The competence of each diver shall be assessed. Factors to be taken into account include the recency of the recreational certificate and of the last dive, the diving experience of the diver since the certificate was gained, e.g. as contained in logbooks, and current fitness to dive.” There is no clear definition of what is an adequate assessment of competence. In addition, the listed “factors” are notoriously unreliable. Consequently, the clause is open-ended, extremely onerous and unfair to dive supervisors. My recommendation was that it be re-worded as follows:
The reason for this recommendation is that the proposed assessment of competence is probably the most difficult task for a dive supervisor, yet it is mandatory but with little detail. Since there is no clear definition of what is an adequate assessment of competence, it should not be mandatory.
Factors to be taken into account
In order to comply with the proposed standard, dive supervisors would be required to exercise judgement based on their experience and the evidence that is placed before them. However, assessment of competence based on judgement is inherently risky.
Unlike other clauses in these standards, this section is fairly vague. The list of factors is not a full list, but includes some suggestions. If there is a diving incident, a prosecutor might suggest that the dive supervisor did not adequately assess the competence of the diver. The court might find that the dive supervisor should have done something else that is not on the list.
1.5.29 Definition of EANx dive supervisor.
My suggestion was that it be optional (not mandatory) that an EANx diver supervisor “holds a certificate in EANx diving operations leadership issued by a SCUBA training organisation”.
The current clause implies that all dive supervisors will have to be trained as Nitrox Instructors just in case someone comes aboard with Nitrox equipment. This would be windfall revenue for the training agencies, but is it essential?
It also implies that Nitrox is more dangerous than diving on air. We use Nitrox because it is SAFER THAN AIR. This is because you are not breathing as much Nitrogen in the mix.
The only additional task stated in the proposed standards is for the EANx dive supervisor to “review the maximum depths for the breathing gas”. Simple charts are available to show the maximum operating depth of a dive based on the percentage of oxygen in the mix. Additionally, the dive supervisor cannot enforce the maximum depth of the dive. It is the responsibility of the diver to do this. Also, a maximum depth warning can be set on most dive computers prior to the dive.
The following procedures are already in place:
The responsibilities of the dive supervisor are to act as lookout and perform rescues. It is not essential that they be qualified Nitrox Instructors as well.
Implications for Nitrox Divers
Consider the following implications if the dive supervisor who holds “a certificate in EANx diving operations leadership issued by a SCUBA training organisation”, is unable to go on the trip.
One would have to conclude that these standards are unlikely to make diving safer. They are more likely to drive smaller operators out of business making it harder and more expensive for us to go diving. The diving is very good in nearby countries: try New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomons, or Fiji.