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Letter concerning diver recall systems

Posted by Mark Allen on February 2, 2014 at 1:35 PM

 Diver Recall Clarification

I’ve just put out the letter below which I hope should address one of the concerns raised at the JS Diving Safety Conference:

Following the JS Diving Safety Conference on 14 Jan 14, it is clear that clarification is required concerning the responsibilities of SADS for ensuring that they have adequately considered diver recall. In my capacity as the sub-aqua SME to Captain Naval Physical Development (CNPD), and in conjunction with Superintendent of Diving (SofD), I’ve put together the note below which I hope provides the necessary clarification.

Most experienced divers know that many commonly relied on diver recall systems, such as metal on metal or engine revving, have limited effectiveness, particularly when wearing a hood. This was recently highlighted at a meeting of the British Diving Safety Group (BDSG) following an assessment carried out on their behalf. Subsequently, it was briefed at the Joint Services Safety Conference.

Existing BSAC procedures and training states that a suitable diver recall system should be available during all open-water diving. Although explosive devices, such as thunderflashes, are undoubtedly extremely effective in alerting divers they carry additional risks, are unsuitable for transportation on civilian aircraft and are also illegal in many countries. Other options, such as SMBs and underwater audio systems, are either unsuitable for all types of diving, or expensive and bulky. The bottom line is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

This issue was also raised at the JS Sub Aqua Diving Policy Advisory Committee on 15 Jan and I’ll be recommending that it is highlighted up the chain of command via inclusion on the Adventurous Training Operational Safety Working Group(AT OSWG) risk matrix. As part of the mitigation measures, a key recommendation will be to carry out a more scientific investigation than the BDSG assessment. This should provide a clear understanding of the effectiveness and suitability of different diver recall systems. This information can then be widely disseminated for use by SADS and others. Hopefully this work will also recommend a solution that can then be resourced via the various funding routes.

Clearly this will not happen overnight and therefore in the interim we will all need to operate using existing methods. SADS need to be aware that all methods have limitations and this needs to form part of the risk assessment that you already carry out before every dive. Like many of the decisions you make, you may need to balance dive profile, site conditions, hazards and other factors and be prepared to justify them in the event of an incident.

Just in case you feel that these are not the sorts of issues that impact on us here at JSSADC then please let me illustrate with an example. Along with staff from CJSATC and KTC, we’re shortly due to conduct our annual staff training period based in Aqaba, Jordan. Thunderflashes are not an option and many of the dives will be on walls or wrecks making SMBs a potential snag hazard. My plan therefore will be to document the risk in the project plan and put in place a series of mitigation measures. As examples, these will include the requirement to use SMBs whenever possible, or deploy a DSMB once clear of the wreck/wall, or if separated. We will also conduct a test of the alternative systems on the shakeout dive so that everyone has heard them and reinforce this by briefing throughout the trip.

I know many of you will be concerned by the scrutiny that will be applied on this issue during your periodic inspections by the Diving Standards Team (DST). They are both experienced and pragmatic SADS who understand the challenges that the diver recall issue poses to branches and expeditions. Their role is to ensure that you have also identified that the risk exists and put in place appropriate mitigating measures. That to me seems eminently reasonable and something that I’d hope we’d all support.

If this isn’t clear or you’d like to discuss particular situations then please do not hesitate to get in touch.


Dominic Robinson

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