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Diving Safety Officer


In addition to assisting injured recreational scuba divers, the primary mission of DAN-SA is for every dive to be accident and injury free. To realise this vision, the Diving Safety Officer Programme has been introduced.

DAN-SA has previously introduced a global campaign which focuses on equipping dive operators with the knowledge needed to identify and mitigate the risks associated with their respective dive operations – the Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) Programme. In turn, this requires a programme that creates awareness, improves risk management, and ultimately mitigates health and safety risks. As a result, the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) Programme has been developed. DAN-SA intends to guide all diving businesses to establish a culture of safety.

Every programme needs a champion: someone who will pay specific attention to the manner in which the diving business and its related operations work. This person needs to be dedicated to establishing, monitoring, improving and maintaining the systems needed. This is the DSO’s function. One can define this responsible person in terms of their tasks, their position within the business or organisation, their skills and competences, and their ability to understand, implement and manage the culture of safety. To be equipped to deal with these divergent and often complex issues, some degree of specialised training, followed by sufficient experience, is needed. Is this all really necessary? What are the risks to the business owner, the club manager or any diving enterprise manager that we are so concerned about? How should we structure a programme to help the responsible person deal with all of these? These are all good questions. So, before delving into the DSO Programme, let us briefly review the governing concepts of HIRA and its ultimate goal, namely a culture of safety.

The concept of HIRA is not unique to DAN-SA. This approach applies to almost every industry, all with their own unique risks, dynamics and potential consequences. Our challenge, however, is to render this process into something that the diving industry can relate to; something that addresses the real issues that may compromise specific recreational diving-related activities, often unique to geographic locations and even socio-economic realities.

Once the basic HIRA process is completed, targeted risk mitigation follows. The steps taken must then be monitored to ensure the effectiveness of the process. In summary, we can refer to this as HIRA Mitigation and Monitoring (HIRA-MM).

In previous Alert Diver issues, we explain these concepts and provide descriptions of the areas within a dive business that require risk analysis. For now, however, we will only be providing a brief summary of the HIRA process as a necessary foundation of the DSO Programme.

The difficulty is being able to comprehend how this applies to a business, combined with the fact that everyone in the business is usually overloaded with their daily tasks. Most dive businesses simply do not have enough hours in the day to get to everything, let alone accommodate what might be thought of as extra red tape. Thus, for all this to work, HIRA-MM needs to be understood and appreciated within the context of what is already happening.
Most dive businesses have slow seasons, allowing them to better dedicate time to other tasks. This is usually when they are busy with staff education and making improvements for the next season. This period is the ideal time for the DSO to focus his or her attention on HIRA-MM. This can be done by following these four steps:

Identify potential hazards within the diving industry, including the probable causes of accidents and injuries that might affect people or resources, and those hazards that may affect the business and the marine environment.

Analyse these potential hazards for relevance: how real and important are they? So, this step is about putting first things first.

Create and implement the most suitable mitigation strategy for each of these identified and analysed hazards.

Assess the mitigation strategy for relevance, sensibility, usefulness and effectiveness. Ask yourself whether accidents or near misses are still happening. If they are, why are the mitigation steps not working and can the steps be improved or changed? Also consider whether people are adhering to the mitigating steps in an effort to make the operation as safe as it can reasonably be expected to be. This is where the expertise of the DSO comes in.

Appointing a DSO who is properly trained to understand and apply the required steps, to monitor these, and to advise management of the overall status, is clearly an excellent solution and completely in line with how occupational health and safety programmes are intended to work.


The term “a culture of safety” can best be explained by considering the four aspects of this concept.

Commitment: Without complete management commitment to safety, the programme is a non-starter. Management needs to decide on the necessity and potential consequences when weighed up against how much risk they are prepared to take.

Concern: There needs to be a shared care and concern for risks, especially their potential impact upon people, the business’ resources and, of course, the environment – the core attraction that exists to generate business.

Consciousness: An ongoing, realistic and educated approach to risks is required; understanding the risks allows people to then accept their responsibilities.

Consistency: There needs to be a sustained effort and continual reflection of practices through monitoring, analysis and of course feedback that leads to improvements and, ultimately, maturity.

With this culture in place, all activities to improve safety become completely natural and present in daily activities: staff will do this continuously without even thinking about it. It needs to become a completely natural part of all the business’ activities.


To establish a realistic, appropriate HIRA-MM process that leads to an effective culture of safety and adds value to the business, an individual with comprehensive training in all the aspects that relate to safety and quality is required.

We have identified the following areas of training to equip DSOs with the knowledge and skills required to manage their job function with the necessary confidence. Admittedly, it is a rather daunting task, but if the concept is introduced as a gradual process, rather than a single goal and outcome, maturity, competence and understanding will follow.

HIRA: The core of the culture of safety

The DSO needs to understand how to apply the HIRA-MM process to the business, both on site and at sea. There are several critical areas to consider, but the outcome will be a safe operation with a limited amount of risk exposure to the business and, of course, to the owners, management and instructors.

The culture of safety not only benefits the clientele, but it also spills over towards impacting their behaviour in risk mitigating ways even after they have left. A good example of this is that if re-hydration after diving is actively encouraged by staff, with the necessary resources to make access easy, clients are much more likely to comply. Everybody wins.

Legal matters: How to steer clear of crossing the legal boundaries

In order to mitigate and hence avoid client, staff and public liabilities, it is important to understand the different liabilities as well as the impact these can have on a business. Each country will have its own laws, and each territory, state or even municipal district might have additional regulations. This requires careful consideration, especially in cases in where a business would like to expand into other areas. One needs to know which laws apply and how to comply with them. In the case that some activity or operation falls foul of the law, a suitable action plan is needed in order to acquire the right assistance.

The insurance realm: The right protection when you need it

Most people tend to resist paying for insurance. There are several aspects to and types of insurance, and a healthy and well-protected business needs to at least consider these. Client insurance is certainly not the only cover that is needed.

Clearly, DAN-SA membership is a form of health cover(1) for all divers in need. There are applicable exclusions and limits that need some understanding too. Remember that both staff and clients need cover while diving or engaged in any related activity. This benefit offers a degree of mitigation but you need to ensure that you carefully manage all areas where risks still exist.

All businesses need some degree of equipment, building, transport, watercraft and asset cover; this is usually referred to as short-term insurance. Even more appropriate in today’s litigious environment is an understanding of civil and personal liability, restitution and compensation, which is essential in order to attain the right form of protection. Also remember that South Africa has introduced the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act No. 68 of 2008) to define both liability and responsibilities for businesses – whether they provide services, sell products or other paid-for activities. The definitions provided by the act need to be adequately understood too.

Finally, we have business and personnel insurances, where there are always exclusions and exposures that cannot be insured for, requiring additional mitigation steps. Insurance for illegal or non-compliant activities is not available: these risks can only be mitigated through an understanding of laws and regulations, and by using well-considered risk management procedures. A good example of this is a business conveying clients to dive sites where the business’ driver does not hold the necessary professional driving permit.

Occupational health and safety: Taking care of staff

The employment of any person carries with it the responsibility to ensure a safe working environment, irrespective of whether they are a full-time employee, a seasonal or temporary worker, or even a short-term human resource.

Contract terms and conditions do not supersede local laws or their regulatory environments. Businesses carry the responsibility of complying with the appropriate regulatory environment and the DSO needs to clarify this for each business:

Which regulations apply to the different aspects of the business?
What is classified as an occupational hazard, disease or injury?
How does the state cover such risks to employees(2)?
What compensation exists and where are there gaps?

A comprehensive health and safety plan is clearly what is needed here.

Medical issues: An understanding of the risks of diving

DSOs are not required to be healthcare professionals. However, they do need a basic understanding of diving risks. Without this, any safety programme and its mitigating instructions would be incomplete. Some of the essential questions are:

What are the most common and the most serious medical complications to be encountered and how would each be dealt with? For example, sea lice stings versus gas embolism.
What are the main contributing risk factors for decompression illness (DCI), and how should this be treated if it were to arise? For example, dehydration in tropical climates, or flying after diving.

What other medical conditions are most likely amongst the clientele that may cause problems or present abnormal symptoms and signs, irrespective of any diving activities? For example, luxury resorts are likely to attract older, more well-established individuals, a group that is generally associated with cardiac risk factors.

What is reasonable and appropriate for an effective initial emergency response and stabilisation on-site versus what may be deferred to local healthcare systems? For example, should an automated external defibrillator be kept on-site or can the ambulance service respond promptly enough?

What travel medical concerns need to be considered? Many popular diving destinations are relatively remote and are often only accessible by air travel. In addition, there may be certain endemic diseases (such as malaria) or certain mandated health precautions (such as yellow fever vaccinations), or other precautionary measures to consider.

Emergency planning: When things do go wrong

The DSO needs to analyse which of the existing risks require immediate action so as to limit the extent of an adverse situation. These may be present at sea, on the beach, in the workshop, in the cylinder filling station and so on.

Emergency plans need to be concise so that staff can react without needing to think. These plans need to contain possible emergency situations. The staff members responsible for compiling these procedures may need a degree of guidance; in some cases, the DSO might draft these for approval by the relevant manager. One cannot underestimate the value of practising these procedures. Only regular and realistic drills will ensure that staff can perform under pressure without needing to think about what steps are needed.

The recompression chamber: What you need to know

Few diving facilities have local recompression facilities on site. Hence, the DSO is unlikely to need any detailed background as to how these operate.

There are, however, a few things that the DSO needs to know in order to be able to establish effective emergency procedures when recompression is needed. These include the basic operation of a chamber, how to tend to the patient inside the chamber, what medical considerations and potential emergency situations need to be considered, and what the resulting safety action plans would be.

The technical support aspects of diving equipment: The nuts and bolts

The DSO may or may not have training or experience in diving-related equipment, such as regulators, high pressure filling systems, gas blenders, cylinders, oxygen cleaning and exposure considerations, to name but a few.

Keeping equipment in good and safe working condition through effective maintenance is a key aspect of a safety programme.

In order to be able to implement or at least assess a sound maintenance programme, the DSO needs to understand the basic construction and operation of the main items of equipment used in a dive business. The best way to demonstrate that maintenance has been performed is the completion and retention of these records. Many a legal issue has been avoided where effective maintenance has been demonstrated.

Business planning and sustainability: A secure business is a safe business

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. There is almost no place more subject to this than a business. For any business to be financially secure and remain well resourced, it must have a plan of action for adverse business events. It should allocate an appropriate investment in safety, and provide financial and legal assurance in the event of accidents. The DSO should at least be able to assess what makes a sustainable and a responsible business. To achieve this, a solid business plan needs to be in place.

Ecological responsibilities: Protecting the environment that attracts divers

Ecological awareness and protection of the ecology is the business’ responsibility. Whenever excursions are made into these often highly sensitive areas, it should be understood that preservation is part of business protection. To jeopardise the environment is to place the business in danger. Staff members need proper instruction and clients need to be educated in order to protect the environmental assets.

Monitoring your safety programme: An essential way to build a safety culture

Monitoring and measuring should not be done without good reason. The objective is not to keep people busy; it is to ensure safety. Any abnormal findings should be reported to management as part of the safety programme. The DSO should, therefore, understand and be able to communicate the importance of those aspects of the operation that require monitoring. This is important, not only for the sake of clients, but for the staff as well as the business’ health as a whole. Analysis and reporting of results should be used to maintain awareness and improve education on health and safety.

The health and safety manual: Where all the safety plans are to be found

Understanding the essential elements of the health and safety manual, and then compiling or at least reviewing this compendium for effective safety management, is an essential task for the DSO.

The organisational structure and delegations of responsibilities to specific personnel explain the overall business safety management strategy.
The business “health” assessment should be an integral part of this documented process. Important reporting forms, assessment and monitoring instructions, maintenance schedules, liability-reducing registration documents, and client and staff instructions should be collated here.

Finally, a policy for the maintenance of important records should be in place to provide assurance of proof of a solid health and safety system.


No person can operate successfully in a position where the business and personal expectations of their position are not clear. Knowledge, experience, personality traits and skills define their competence: a decision that must be taken by management.

Of course this person’s position within the organisation needs to be clear too. It is the owner or the manager who is ultimately responsible for safety – not the DSO. The DSO’s job is to assess, advise, steer and monitor safety. This implies that they need to be free to report on any issue without prejudice to their position or employment.

The DSO is a trained and knowledgeable person, requiring not only proper appointment, but perhaps also an individual career path. They can be a part of the business, or an external, independent consultant. This depends on the scope and amount of work required to promote and grow a business’ culture of safety.


The role of a DSO is an extension of the mission of DAN-SA to prevent injuries. As such, DAN-SA has made the strategic decision to develop the DSO Programme that we hope will equip those individuals who assume this vital role with the optimal level of competence and confidence to perform this function well. Ultimately, the employer or contracting party will have to determine whether or not a DSO is competent.

What DAN-SA wants to ensure is that the requirements, responsibilities and resources actually match up in the individual a business decides to select. As such, this programme meets the requirements for official certification by both diving education and certification organisations, as well as our own Department of Labour. Successful candidates can expect to be recognised formally and internationally for their skills and qualification – significant recognition indeed.

For more information about the DAN-SA DSO Programme, contact the DAN-SA office on 0860 242 242 or email
FOOTNOTE: DAN-SA is actually the insured party; if a member is injured, the insurance benefit payable to DAN is simply extended to the member. DAN-SA does not sell insurance to its members. 

FOOTNOTE: 2. Most countries enact some form of occupational health and safety (OHS) compensation for both injuries and diseases; businesses therefore need to be registered for such compensation schemes and failure to do so would be an illegal act that cannot be insured for: the liability thus falls on the business and its owners.

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