Caring For Your Business

The DAN-SA HIRA Programme promotes a culture of safety at diving businesses. With proper care of your business, your clients will be assured that you are serious about safety.
In the previous hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA) articles, we set the stage and also covered the essential resources for running a sustainable, safe and reliable business. The last element to consider is the actual business of diving, be it training, tourism, or open- or closed-water diving.

Having ensured that we have the right people and the right facilities, we now need to ensure that we head for the right water. There are four key elements to consider in preparing for and launching into any water, namely the training room, the training pool, transportation to the dive site (by land, air or water), and finally transfers at and from the dive site, including those from shore or from a dive boat before, during or after diving. Once again we apply the HIRA process to ensure the safety of all participants, including supervisors and instructors, students, skippers and support staff members.

Whenever we leave the familiar and controlled environment of our own facilities, we need to consider the potential hazards related to those elements which are less predictable and usually outside of our control, namely transportation to and from dive sites via roads (including traffic), launch sites and the open water itself. As always, the key lies in first identifying the relevant hazards (by knowing the environments well enough to recognise them), secondly by assessing the real risks (by determining the likelihood of an occurrence and the potential consequences), thirdly by mitigating these risks (through planning and fore-thought) and finally by monitoring our efforts (to ensure that we keep our people and our assets safe).

The Training Room

A diving operation is responsible for the safety of its employees and that of the public, including customers and students; thus there are always occupational issues to consider.

The training room is a controlled environment where staff members and students should stay safe and out of harm’s way, but it can present significant risks to a diving operation.

Diving centres are often located in or near popular diving areas, which are usually situated in tropical areas with high heat and humidity. Keeping students comfortable and alert enough to absorb and apply the training they receive to ensure their safety in the water means that a diving operation needs to put the following basic safety plans in place:
  • Provide adequate lighting, specifically around the standard level of 200 lux.
  • Provide adequate ventilation. Keep windows open and allow the hot air to escape (if you do not make use of air conditioners) in order to facilitate some circulation.
  • Coupled with ventilation, note that the optimal temperature for alertness and participation is around 22°C. Of course, you would not want the air conditioning to cause stuffy noses as a physiological reaction, but if the room falls outside the temperature range of 18°C to 30°C, you risk losing your students’ attention through thermal distraction.
  • Having good rest-breaks between teaching sessions will prevent information overload and will also compensate for adjustments to the tropics and travel fatigue.
  • Lastly, students need ergonomically-suitable writing and studying surfaces. This means that the tables should be at the right height with a reasonable amount of space to work on.
Teaching facilities also require the following basic planning in order to meet safety and comfort requirements:
  • In the event of a fire emergency, the facility layout should permit efficient evacuation. This means that all fire hazards should be identified and managed properly and there should be adequate fire-fighting measures set in place. Remember that prevention is always better than control.
  • Numerous add-ons to the electrical supply systems are common safety hazards. It is important to ensure safe installations, the protection of power outlets, and the rendering of neat wiring without creating trip hazards.
  • Clean and hygienic ablution facilities should be available to students, with, if possible, separate facilities for men and women.

The Training Pool

Most dive businesses that offer dive training will have their own pool or access to one nearby. A pool introduces a well-defined collection of potential risks to both divers and other users as the open water is not the only water hazard to consider. As such, we need to pay particular attention to the following:
  • Protection from sunlight with sufficient shade to allow staff members and customers to complete their outdoor training activities without excessive exposure to sunlight. Put signage in place to encourage sunscreen application at least 30 minutes prior to exposure (ideally after a diver’s morning shower). This is especially important in malaria areas where travellers may be taking protective medication that makes them more vulnerable to sunburn, for example doxycycline.
  • The area around the pool should be surfaced so as to protect against slips and falls, especially when wet.
  • Getting into the pool requires safe ingress and egress structures and procedures, especially when divers are wearing their scuba diving kits. The ladders need to be finger-pinch-proof, and the launching platforms should ensure that a practise back-roll does not result in head and neck injuries.
  • Suitable access barriers around or over the pool are essential to prevent unauthorised or unsupervised access. Clients may have their young children with them and as such drown-proof barriers are crucial. In addition, supervising staff members should be trained to deal with emergencies associated with pool use.
  • When training students, instructor ratios are important (as required by the respective training agency). Generally speaking, one would expect no more than six students per instructor.
  • Oxygen and first-aid kits should be kept within reasonable proximity of the pool, particularly during periods of pool use, in order to ensure that medical emergencies can be rapidly and effectively dealt with.
  • For pools deeper than 1.5 m, there are additional, specific accident or health concerns related to pool activities, including pulmonary barotrauma and arterial gas embolism. Such pools require a suitable accident management protocol and competent responders for dealing with such events.
  • Pool hygiene is important, especially when offering services to the public. We would expect to find a logged cleaning protocol and carefully-managed hygiene controls.
  • The changing rooms and ablution facilities should be available for both genders and you need to adhere to the same non-slip requirements that apply to the pool area.
  • Finally, pre-dive briefings, buddy checks and post-dive briefings should be rehearsed in closed water areas to ensure safe open water excursions and to standardise safety training to all students.
Attention to these aspects, and maintaining consistent discipline in all activities related to pool dives and training, ensures that your safety record remains high. It also shows your due diligence if an unfortunate event were to occur, with your ability to mitigate both the injury and any liability.

Transportation To The Dive Site

Although, in principle, passenger transportation is highly regulated in most places around the world, this is not always what we find in practice. Moreover, because this is an area where we often depend on third-party services and vehicles, the following potential risks require specific mention and attention:
  • Registration and road-worthiness are vital to any form of accident and liability insurance you might have in place as well as to your public liability risk exposure.
  • Drivers need to be appropriately licenced to operate the vehicle and, equally importantly, be at least 25 years of age if transporting fare-paying passengers. Remember that this is considered part of your business and is not a social event such as friends who are travelling together.
  • While possibly unpopular, you do need to have an alcohol and drug policy in place, with a zero tolerance limit, if you wish to prove your commitment to safety.
  • Vehicles need to be serviced regularly and also need to be checked before use every time. No drive means no dive, resulting in inconvenience and loss of revenue.
  • Finally, we need to heed passenger safety requirements even though there is a general tendency to relax requirements near the beach. Wear seatbelts, do not ride on the trailer or sit on the edges and do not stand on the vehicle while it is driving.

Transfers At The Dive Site

This includes the beach, the boat, the water-entry location and the dive. This is usually where the fins hit the foam! As we get to the end of the list of focus areas for our HIRA, we come to the most significant activity as far as risk management is concerned. We will focus on the boat as our primary water-entry platform, but of course the walk-in, climb-downs and the more challenging shore (rocky) entries are all part of the same water ingress-egress activities. The following guidelines will help to ensure that the risks which are associated with transfers at the dive site are mitigated:
  • Does the boat meet the legal requirements? All dive boats which are used to convey passengers need to be registered and managed professionally. This implies compliance with the authorities and their specific requirements, as well as paying very specific attention to staff members’ competence and the management of all boat operations.
  • Boats should be registered and equipped to comply with the requirements of the local authorities.
  • All working staff members need to be well-trained and certified as competent. Also ensure that that the relevant certification information is filed for easy access.
  • A specific alcohol and drug policy is essential, which should include documented, regular evaluations of all boat staff members.
  • Boats should be equipped for possible events such as skipper overboard, engine failure, fire on board, poor weather and even for unlikely events such as capsizing or sinking.
  • Night dives require additional lighting and navigation considerations.
  • Lastly, effective and suitable back-up communication systems are essential for any dive operation. These should include reliable connections such as written 24-hour contact details for maritime and medical rescue services, as well as the dive business’ office.

Remember that before setting out, the better prepared the excursion is, the safer it is likely to be. The actual placement of identified risks might be immediately prior to the actual dive itself, but it is better to consider them earlier rather than too late. The following is a comprehensive list of considerations to keep in mind:
  • Essential boat, safety and diving spares should be available on the boat itself.
  • Diving operations should ensure that they have all the necessary first-aid equipment, not forgetting preparing for hazardous marine life injuries and oxygen kits. All of these should be properly controlled, stowed and clearly marked.
  • Slip and fall risks should be identified and prevented by means of engineering controls (anti-slip/friction surfaces), administrative procedures (mandating appropriate footwear) or protective equipment (providing non-slip shoes).
  • One of the sad events associated with boats are propeller-related injuries. Control this risk using propeller guards, proper safety briefings, skipper attentiveness and well thought-out ingress and egress procedures.
  • Instructors (in the case of students) or dive masters should be very familiar with the various dive sites and should maintain appropriate ratios, for example no more than six students to one instructor and ten certified divers to one dive master.
  • All divers should be suitably positioned on the boat, preferably close to their equipment as well as to their dive buddy.
  • All dive equipment should be securely stowed away and divers should have their hands free to secure their position on the boat rather than holding onto equipment during the launching or return to the launch site (especially when beaching the boat).
  • Rehydration should be well provided for and available to all divers.
  • The best way to ensure that a thorough pre-launch check can be done is by means of a checklist. All issues such as sufficient fuel, working navigation and communications equipment, presence of first-aid kits, essential spares and tools, drinking fluids and especially the boat plugs should be diligently controlled.
  • A detailed boat briefing is always required, even for the most experienced divers. All of the safety, emergency, restriction (for example no access to certain parts of the boat) and procedures need to be explained, not forgetting to instruct divers on how to get onto the boat to start with.
  • Prior to the actual boat launch, the engines should be checked and suitably warmed-up to ensure that they are working correctly.
  • Boat launching needs to be conducted safely. Distractions must be avoided with everyone’s attention focussed on the process to avoid equipment loss or injuries. This can be assured in part by following suitable procedures, but the reality is that things still can go wrong. In these cases, it is important to carefully analyse incidents like falls, slips, bumps, losses and even more severe injuries and damages, in order to learn from them and to improve the safety procedures and the experience of the staff members.
On The Actual Dive

On the actual dive it is of essence, once again, to prepare and plan beforehand to ensure a safe dive. This is a busy time, with divers moving about and often being concerned about their own state of affairs. It requires careful management and supervision, include the following:
  • The diver who is in charge should always perform a thorough and well-documented pre-dive briefing. Essential elements include a dive site briefing, the sea conditions, buddy pairings and buddy procedures, communication methods, emergency procedures and the location of emergency equipment, recall procedures, any local hazardous marine life to consider, getting into the water and then out again, and of course the dive plan itself. It is also important to discuss decompression procedures and ensure that each diver has the means to monitor their depth and time.
  • Kitting up instructions and the processes for individual diver checks, buddy checks and instructor or dive master checks should be clear.
  • A system should be in place for logging and controlling the divers which are associated with the boat. Some sites are very busy, thus forming a diver identification helps, together with the active management of the supervising diver.
  • Accident management should not only be thought about but should also be documented as a set of specific checks and procedures, be readily available at all points of contact and be workable. Rehearse the response and communication in case of an actual accident and implement the accident management procedures by means of a simulated case before any diving has actually taken place. All boat staff members need to be included in this development and rehearsal process.
  • Lost diver procedures and equipment for lost-at-sea situations are a fundamental safety consideration, especially when venturing far from the shore.
  • The operation needs a system in place to recall divers to the boat in the event of any emergency, deteriorating weather conditions or any other relevant emergency.
  • Getting into the water needs coordination to avoid injuries, entanglements and falls, especially since most divers will already be kitted-up with equipment. The actual process of entering the water should also be addressed properly during the pre-dive briefing, but staff members will need to actively manage and monitor this process.
  • The boat skipper needs to know exactly where the dive buoy and the divers are located. Also, when following a dive that is in progress, the current speed and direction should be anticipated to ensure that the boat is clear of any surfacing divers.
  • The skipper also needs to ensure, when approaching divers on the completion of a dive, that they are ready to be picked up, that they are aware of the boat’s position and where to climb on. It is also advisable to approach the divers in the direction of the wind, for example from the stern side.
  • Be sure to involve the boat staff members in retrieving diving gear after a dive. The idea is to not have divers straining themselves during the critical period where circulating bubbles can potentially do them harm.
  • Lastly, avoiding injuries during egress from the boat, for example ladder hinges crushing a diver’s fingers during their exit from the water. This is the element that first inspired the DAN-SA HIRA programme. Divers should ensure that the boat ladders and other supporting elements are unlikely to injure people as they get out ofthe water and onto the boat. Again, you may employ an appropriate combination of engineering controls, namely a good ladder design, administrative controls such as an effective procedure with appropriate instruction, and personal protection controls such as providing gear that will ensure that divers are not injured.

Post-dive, there are a few practical aspects to help conclude the dive experience safely:

A post-dive briefing should include any remaining instructions for the period between dives, such as:

The hazards implications of repetitive dives;
  • Considerations for the journey back to the launch site;
  • Rehydration prompts and instructions;
  • Ensuring that divers know about the no-fly period or driving over high mountains;
  • No hot showers or exercise for a total of four hours post diving;
  • An explanation of common decompression illness symptoms and the importance of reporting them regardless of the dive profile; and
  • Relevant emergency contact numbers.
Appropriate warning and advice on post-dive swimming or snorkelling, especially if there are large marine animals to be seen. Due caution needs to be taken regarding breath-holding and deep excursions.

Conclude all diving with the understanding of a six-hour bends watch during where no-decompression limits have been exceeded.

In Conclusion

This series of articles was published to introduce the HIRA Programme and to provide some tangible, relevant safety considerations for dive businesses to include when optimising their diving operations. Note that the diligent monitoring of all incidents, accidents and even near-misses will offer the opportunity for reassessment and refinements as they offer essential feedback on whether your practices and processes are effective. These processes are not only about acquiring good safety statistics, but they are also about analysing where things do not go to plan and to develop and implement changes and to monitor the outcome to see if the problems are addressed adequately. To quote an experienced and committed dive business owner: “We have found that once you start to put these steps in place, after a while they just become the norm and when we have new staff members to train, the existing staff members who have to do the training treat the procedures as if they had been doing them all their lives.” Can there be a clearer endorsement for the HIRA process than this statement? Indeed, this should be the objective: Creating a culture of safety where safety is a perpetual habit, not a daily decision. When we set up our safety systems in a way that make sense, is effective and can be absorbed by our staff members, they become a culture rather than just another series of tasks. Then, and only then, can we reasonably expect to have a safe diving operation. This should become the signature of all successful dive operations and the minimum level of dedication all clients will come to expect.

The key to any sustainable dive business is one that is safe for its clients, ecologically responsible, in step with the needs and the means of the clients, reliable, and one that provides a safe and supportive working environment for its staff. With all of these elements intact and with a good sense of business and planning, success should be inevitable.

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