Diving & The Media: A Survival Guide – 2

Times 2The ‘Guide’ – written in late 1999 – was in three parts plus appendices. Part One dealt with ‘Risk Management Considerations’; Part Two, dealt with ‘The Media’, while Part Three focussed on, ‘Crisis Management’. (The appendices included detailed information on: Media Kits; Tips on Writing Media Releases; Press Release Formats, and Managing Post-Incident Stress.)

Abridged extracts from Part One: ‘Risk Management Considerations’ follows:

PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE

The best Crisis Management programme is one that sits on the shelf and is never used. With that positive intention in mind, the greater the dive professional’s awareness of all that could possibly happen through lack of proper vigilance the better prepared they will be to prevent the occurrence of an unfortunate incident.

Many of the so-called ‘accidents’ that occur in diving are avoidable: rather than being, ‘events without apparent cause’ they are often the result of a failure to safeguard against what, in retrospect, becomes the obvious.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s usually easy to determine what went wrong:
 A diver failed to adhere to the dive plan or to follow the pre-dive briefing instructions.
 A medical contra-indication to diving health and fitness was ignored or overlooked.
 The person giving the pre-dive briefing omitted key facts.
 Nobody thought to check the qualifications of a diver participating in a dive beyond the level of their experience and training.
 Pre-dive safety drills and equipment checks were overlooked.
 An appointed dive leader allowed people to dive in less than perfect conditions, “because they might expect a refund.”
 A qualified person failed to check that rental equipment functioned properly before allowing it to leave the dive store.
 A diver caved in to peer pressure and undertook a dive that they didn’t feel comfortable performing.
 Paperwork, waivers and releases were not properly completed on the grounds that it created additional work for the busy dive shop staff.
 The diver was not sufficiently familiar with the equipment being used.
 The diver was imperfectly equipped.
 The equipment used was unsuited to the type of dive being performed.
 The diver became blasé and forgot the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘simple’ dive.
 The diver possessed too little knowledge about the physiological implications of diving.
 The dive leader’s accident management skills were rusty, or at fault.
 A seemingly minor incident went un-reported, thus paving the way for a repeat occurrence – one with possibly more deadly consequences.

The list is endless. And while many of the causal factors in an accident can be directly attributed to faulty behaviour and lack of knowledge on the part of the individual diver, most are within the scope and power of an experienced dive professional to anticipate and then, through appropriate advance action, prevent.

There is a belief among many dive operators that they have covered themselves from reproach, or possible involvement in an incident, by adhering rigidly to the applicable Standards, Regulations and Codes of Practice demanded of them by their Training Agencies and other regulatory bodies. Not so.

Although this is a positive first step towards safety, such thinking fails to take into account the human element in diving. Where possible, Safety Standards should be exceeded and encapsulated into an Operations Manual specific to the particular dive operation. This should be constantly subjected to review, updated where necessary, and read and understood by everyone, whether in a paid or an unpaid capacity, (a Dive Master, Dive Guide, or independent Instructor, for example.) who works for, or through, the dive operation.

Even then it’s impossible to guard against all eventualities: Particularly in an increasingly litigious society.

So what can dive operators do to protect themselves, their staff, and their customers from future mishaps and harmful criticisms?

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES

The first step in preparing for the unexpected is to eliminate any doubt and concern about what could go wrong. This is best accomplished by visualisation. Imagine the very worst that can possibly happen, and then set out to make sure that it doesn’t by introducing an ongoing programme of preventative checks and carefully considered safety measures.

And if – despite their best efforts – a crisis situation still arises then, at the very least, the dive operator will have taken reasonable precautions to help cushion themselves, their staff and their business from the impact of unflattering media attention.

Some precautionary measures that a dive operator can take include:
 Ensuring that everybody involved in the dive operation is familiar with – and adheres to – the relevant Training Agency standards.
 Having on hand – and familiarising themselves with – all government regulations and Occupational Health & Safety standards applicable to their business.
 Ensuring that they are in compliance with the procedures set down in those regulations.
 Becoming familiar with all relevant diving industry ‘Codes of Practice’. (These should be regarded as an acceptable ‘minimum’, and ways sought to constantly improve upon them.)
 Maintaining – and keeping filed away for future reference – all customer records relating to their individual diving activities.
 Making adequate provision for insurance.
 Ensuring that compressors and air-banks are properly maintained.
 Ensuring that rental equipment maintenance schedules are adequate.
 Ensuring that all rental equipment functions perfectly and that, in the presence of the customer, it is checked by a qualified staff member before being released for use.
 Confirming that all members of their staff – whether full or part-time – know and properly understand their individual duties and responsibilities. (The operator should set out in document form exactly what those duties are and what is expected from each person in terms of job function, attitude and demeanour. It is preferable that this document is drafted in consultation with the employee and signed by both parties. The operator should give the employee a copy of the document.)
 When conducting dives for certified divers ensuring that:
i. Waivers and liability releases are properly completed.
ii. That the paperwork is adequate to gauge the customer’s diving experience.
iii. That the planned dive is within the capabilities of each customer based on both their level of training and their experience.
iv. That the available number of dive leaders is appropriate to the size and experience level of the group.
v. That the dive leader is qualified and insured: That they are familiar with the dive site: That they possess the required skills to properly gauge sea and weather conditions, (and know when to abort a dive, or modify the plan to suit the experience level of the least qualified diver): That their pre-dive briefing is based on a written document specific to the dive site in question and covers all aspects of the dive plan.
vi. That the dive leader carries with them a written ‘Accident Management Plan’ appropriate to the dive site, and that it includes emergency contact telephone numbers as well as emergency evacuation procedures to be followed.
vii. That complete First Aid, O2 Resuscitation and Spare Parts kits are available to the dive leader on board the vessel or at the dive site: That they know and understand how to use the items – and that they are suitably trained and qualified in their proper use.
 Ensuring that the water skills and rescue procedures of all dive leaders are practiced to the point where the drills become second nature. And that, should it prove necessary, those same individuals have the ability to respond immediately, and in the most appropriate manner, to prevent a minor incident from escalating into a major tragedy.

The preceding list is by no means comprehensive but represents just some of the things that the diving professional needs to consider in order to reduce their exposure to risk.

There are other, less obvious, steps that a dive operator can also consider:

 A dive operator who is willing to work closely with the authorities reduces his or her level of exposure to subsequent criticism from those same organisations by having already shown an obvious awareness and concern for safety.

 Take the initiative by consulting with the relevant Occupational Health & Safety Authorities. Talk with their inspectors and invite their comments and advice on ways to improve the operation.

 Make themselves known to the local emergency services, (Police, Ambulance, Rescue Services), and establish an on-going relationship with key personnel in those organisations. Discuss with them the accident management protocols already in place and invite their input on ways of improving those procedures.

 Establish on-going contact with the local media – print and electronic. Any business – and a dive business is no exception – is only as good as its reputation. In many instances the imagined ‘good reputation’ of a diving business exists only in the mind of the individual operator and fails to extend to the wider local community.

 Send out regular press releases and stories to media contacts: At the very least the operator will be helping to generate free publicity for their business. And in the event of a serious incident the positive, professional and safe image that is hopefully conveyed by those press releases may help to soften or allay any adverse publicity.

However – and regardless of the operator’s best efforts – it’s impossible to plan for the totally unexpected: Especially in a constantly evolving activity like diving that has so many variables to consider.

One day, despite all reasonable precautions, a dive operator may still find him or herself placed in the position of having to defend their actions – or the actions of a staff member – over an apparent failure to anticipate and prevent a diving tragedy.

Should that happen, then having at least an elementary knowledge of the media may prove beneficial and allow an operator to defuse any negative and possibly damaging publicity by knowing: What to say? When and to whom, it should be said? And – perhaps more importantly – What NOT to say.

—ENDS—

 



Categories: Crisis Management Manual

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