CCR Aware, online video by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Appeared in DIVER August 2012
Rebreathers: it’s what’s left unsaid
“In 2011 RoSPA were asked by DBIS [Department for Innovation, Business & Skills] to promote the safe use of rebreathers. “RoSPA worked with rebreather industry experts to identify the key safety issues. “In order to reach the international diving community we created the RoSPA CCR Aware film, which gives divers and those new to rebreathers a solid awareness of the key safety factors for diving with rebreathers.” This was the wording of the press release that announced the accident-prevention charity’s new production. RoSPA is keen that DIVER should promote its work by directing divers to its website. If RoSPA made a film about safety in the kitchen, I’m sure it would be quite specific about the dangers. Saucepans on the stove with handles overhanging can be accidentally pulled over. An unattended pan with oil on the heat can catch fire. Electrical items should be kept well away from wet sinks. Boiling kettles can overturn and scald, wet floors can be slippery, dishwashers can burst into flames – that sort of thing. I was expecting something similar with this video. Paul Haynes from Haynes Marine starts off by explaining the basics of how closed-circuit rebreathers work, and extols their virtues. However, there’s already a hint of things left unsaid, because his expression resembles that of a rabbit in the headlights. What are the hazards of CCRs? RoSPA might have mentioned fatal hypoxia due to poor filling of an O2 cylinder or inattentiveness to the PO2 display; use of out-of-date O2 cells; fatal or near-fatal carbon dioxide poisoning through poor filling of the scrubber canister; damaged O-rings, use of old or partially used scrubber material allowing channelling and CO2 to pass through; the danger of hyperoxia caused by poor attention to the PO2 display or very fast descents. You get the idea. Instead, RoSPA has opted for footage of Rich Stevenson saying that rebreathers really improve the prospect of diving places you might not have dived before, but make sure “you choose a rebreather that suits you”. Then there’s Nick Jewson from the British Sub-Aqua Club looking very evasive, as if concerned that he might give the wrong answer to a difficult question. He looks like an unwilling participant and, though he repeatedly warns that rebreathers can fail, the viewer is not told how. He explains that a new unit has to be independently tested for CE-marking, and that secondhand units might have been badly adapted by their previous owners and should be returned to the manufacturer for checking before use. Perhaps he should simply have said: “Don’t buy secondhand!” Rich points out that you need a good instructor, and that training is just the start of the process of learning to do things instinctively. I can’t argue with that. Vicky Batten from PADI suggests practising inwater skills and having a check-list, but we are not told what those skills or checks might be. She points outs that bubble-free CCR divers are difficult to follow from the surface, but then, there are few skippers who can follow bubbles in anything but a flat-calm sea – and how often do we get one of those? She asks if the (unspecified) rewards are worth the (unspecified) risks. She hints at insurance problems should the worst happen. I can confirm that at least one widow has been left bankrupt and destitute after a CCR fatality because the insurance company walked. The end-credits list heavyweight experts like Prof. Simon Mitchell, Martin Parker, Jack Ingle and Kevin Gurr, but it looks as though RoSPA chose not to include anything specific that they might have contributed. What a pity. Sorry, RoSPA, your CCR film is simply not good enough. It’s nicely lit, beautifully crafted and put together, but there’s no worthwhile content. It doesn’t say why a CCR might represent a hazard, nor does it explain how to mitigate the dangers, so what’s the point? Referring back to the press release, the video hardly mentions a single “key safety factor”. It merely serves to frighten your mother. It appears that RoSPA started off with good intentions but ended up not wishing to offend anyone in the fledgling CCR industry, so the pertinent bits ended up on the cutting-room floor, and the result is very woolly. This might explain the performances of the participants – they may have known that it was going nowhere. Am I harsh in my judgment? Well, Rich, you’re a handsome devil but so is Brad Pitt, and if RoSPA made a video about safety in the kitchen and suggested that if you don’t know what you’re doing you shouldn’t go in there, even his presentation wouldn’t have made it worth watching. The kitchen may be the most dangerous place in the house, but we all use one, regardless. Where else can I make a cup of tea?
John Bantin RoSPA The video can be seen at www.rospa.com/ccr-aware