Divernet

Those friendly folk at the Health and Safety Executive, the ones who make sure that working divers dont go off the rails - they really just want to be loved.
Some of them are divers themselves, and they dont relish being cast as the killjoys waving from the shore: Wed be devastated if we thought we were spoiling anybodys enjoyment of scuba diving, says Mike Harwood, one of the HSEs Specialist Diving Inspectors, a rebreather expert and a diver of long experience. We simply want to make sure that people dive safely.
To that end the HSE is feeling rather pleased with itself at the moment, because after five years of consultations, the new Diving At Work Regulations covering divers within UK territorial waters come into force on 1 April.
The HSE is pleased because the new regulations it has to enforce cover everybody who dives for a living, whereas the old ones, drafted in 1981, were something of a three-legged camel. They even gave the Executive the hump.
They were very prescriptive, very long, very hard to understand and very inflexible, says Karen Davies, HSE Diving Policy Officer. And Mike Harwood feels that they contained some real peculiarities: If you read them carefully, there was actually nothing to say that a working diver even needed a recognised diving qualification! he says.
Under the new regs, recreational diving qualifications are recognised by the HSE. So anyone who is a BSAC Dive Leader or above, or the equivalent, can now be employed as a dive guide in the UK, while all BSAC Instructors can be paid to teach diving at a level appropriate to their qualification.
For the first time, a single set of regulations has been accompanied by not one but five Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPS).
These set out how the standards laid down in the regulations should be achieved, by specifying what the HSE considers to be reasonably practical precautions. They cover offshore; inland/in-shore; media; recreat-ional; and scientific and archaeological diving.
Their legal status is such that in the event of a prosecution, if it can be proved that the guidelines were not followed, a court can find against that person.
Not only commercial diving bodies but also the BSAC, PADI and journalists took part in the consultation process. We were going for goal-based regulations rather than prescription, based on what people were already doing, says Karen Davies. So we went to people and said: Its your industry, tell us what you want.
As the BSACs Chairman and a former factory inspector, Chris Allen spoke the right language.
My main concern was to make sure that the new regulations took proper account of the needs of those using recreational diving techniques to earn their living, he says. They are the largest group, but the previous regulations were drafted without any consideration of them.
This led to a set of regulations principally for offshore use, and imposed requirements that in my view were often inappropriate and in some cases actually dangerous.
When these difficulties were originally highlighted, the HSE was forced to issue a series of exemption certificates that exempted different groups of divers [journalists, archaeologists, scientists and recreational divers] from some of the regulations, but this inevitably resulted in a set of requirements that were clumsy and confusing.
A glance through the new code of practice covering recreational divers - that is, instructors and guides - gives an idea of the standards of care they are expected to adopt. Much of it one would hope to find on any well-organised club dive.
Whether it is the owner of a dive centre who employs instructors or guides, or a self-employed instructor or guide, both are diving contractors. The contractor is legally responsible for the safety of the dive, but can nominate a supervisor to act on his behalf.
The regs come into force where at least one person involved in any recreational scuba project - otherwise known as a dive - can be said to be at work.
The project extends from the moment the first person enters the water (or any other liquid, as the regulations are at pains to point out!) to the moment the last person has safely recompressed.
The guidelines are comprehensive. Take the minimum level of equipment that the diving contractor should ensure is provided for each diver in his charge in open water.
This consists of suit, BC, cylinder and regulator with pressure gauge (or reserve valve or active warning device), alternative air source, mask, fins, depth gauge, timing device, compass, cutting tool and quick-release weightbelt.
But remember that these are guidelines and should be kept in perspective, says Mike Harwood. If an incident occurred that had nothing to do with navigational error, no one is necessarily going to come down on the dive contractor later because he failed to ensure that the victim was carrying a compass.
Another example: how many instructors or guides should there be per trainee or led diver The answer is that the ratio must be appropriate to the site conditions and the exercise, but the minimum team size in open water is three - one on the surface and two, including the instructor or guide, in the water.
The contractor should ensure that sufficient members of the team can perform first aid. What is new is that an HSE first-aid qualification is no longer a requirement. This sort of change is actually raising standards, says Mike Harwood, who feels that in an emergency people react according to how they were originally taught by their parent training agency.
The contractor bears most but not all of the responsibilities. Trainee divers are expected to co-operate, keep accurate logs and be honest about medical conditions. Dive-site owners should highlight known hazards; skippers should keep you informed of any changes in circumstance that might affect the safety of the dive.
The new regulations rely heavily on risk assessment, says Karen Davies. If youre satisfied that what youre doing is safe, that should be fine.
The other ACoPs provide specialist guidelines for everyone from oil-rig divers to movie cameramen and archaeological divers, who previously operated in what Mike Harwood considers the greyest diving legislative area.
Without amateurs, archaeological diving would probably come to a standstill, but whether the divers are deemed to be at work or not, that sort of diving is usually controlled in such a way that the problem doesnt exist. If only some commercial diving organisations put as much effort into planning their dives!
One of our main efforts in framing these regulations was to make sure that we didnt cross the line between people at work and people not at work, who are controlled by their own agencies.
The representative of one of those agencies, Chris Allen, expresses himself pleased with the new legislation. The HSE is to be congratulated on taking such a radical approach, he says. The general set of regulations allied with five different ACoPs specific for the different sectors of the industry are, I believe, a great improvement on their predecessors and now impose sensible and logical requirements.
This is also due to the fact that the new codes have been prepared with very close consultation with the industry. My only real complaint is that in harmonising the different ACoPs, the legal draughtsman has mangled the English somewhat!
Meanwhile, should we love the HSE The diving branch sees itself as our watchdog, especially on the equipment front, where work and recreational diving crosses over.
It tackles suppliers to ensure that dive gear is sold with appropriate instructions. It has persuaded fire brigades of the dangers of selling off old cylinders to divers who try to take them underwater.
It works with training organisations to ensure that only competent service technicians take equipment apart. And it educates local authorities to see that air-filling stations comply with safety rules.
The HSE gets its share of stick, but strives to maintain a friendly face. If youre an enforcement officer [in Health & Safety] and you can only influence people by resorting to threats, then youre not doing your job properly, says Mike Harwood.
Visitors to recent Dive Shows might have stopped for a chat with the Executive, which regularly has a standthere. Its officers were handily placed on one memorable occasion to remove Exhibit A in a plastic bag when a fellow-exhibitors homemade BC exploded!
But its presence is all part of a desire to involve divers, whether in consultations on new regulations or to explain their rights.
Being accessible shows that were not faceless people, says Mike Harwood. Were here to be talked to, shouted at - and if you want to throw fruit, please make it fresh!
  • The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 cost£2.80 from HMSO (tel. 0171 873 9090). The Commercial Diving Offshore and Inland/Inshore ACoPs cost£10.95; the Recreational; Media; and Scientific and Archaeological Diving Projects ACoPs£9.95 from HSE Books (tel. 01787 881165) or bookshops.