While Risk Management strategies all share certain characteristics, their effectiveness rests on the fact that they are – or should be – tailored to the unique requirements of each individual dive operation. Because there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ Risk Management template to work with, the dive operator must assume total responsibility for formulating and implementing a programme that meets their specific business needs.
Should the procedures that they adopt prove inadequate, or if they fail for any reason, then the dive operator must be ready to stand alone in defence of their situation; and be prepared to justify – and, if necessary, accept the consequences of – their own actions and decisions.
This sounds glaringly obvious. Particularly in an activity that encourages the concept of self-responsibility. But the fact remains that once placed in the position of having to deal with a critical incident, (and any subsequent media-driven public criticism of their safety practices) many dive operators feel that other sectors of the industry, (notably the Training Organizations) should be prepared to come to their defence.
Not only is this impractical, neither is it always desirable or helpful to the operator concerned; especially where doubts exist as to the possible causes of an incident.
Indeed, there will be times when – and beyond all question – an operator’s actions or failings played a contributing role in a diving related debacle. Faced with this situation – and for the sake of diving in general – it’s quite possible that any industry statement will, of necessity, reflect that fact.
Attempting to defend the indefensible is not in the diving industry’s best interests. Rather than attempting to shift the onus of blame through a ‘smoke and mirrors’ campaign – something that only serves to attract rather than divert media attention – industry organizations should decide their response based on the particular merits of each case.
Any refusal by, say, a training organisation, to speak about what has happened will only result in the media inviting ill-informed comment from self-appointed ‘industry experts’ – and the reporting of the possibly flawed and subjective views of a disaffected minority.
Although it may not always be possible to openly defend the actions of an individual operator, a timely and appropriate industry-based response that focuses on diving’s safety record may do much to prevent an escalation of the situation; and ultimately help contain any broader criticisms of diving.
In that respect the public relations needs of the industry may sometimes be at odds with the aims and expectations of an individual dive operator who becomes the focus of media outrage.
It is generally agreed that good diving practice depends on a holistic approach to the activity. Regardless of the diver’s proficiency in performing the basic skills, those abilities count for little if the diver fails to acknowledge the equal importance of health, fitness, teamwork, training, constant vigilance and a mature attitude towards safety.
Similarly, no single element in a Risk Management programme can be considered in isolation. Each of the component parts plays an equally significant role in the programme’s overall effectiveness. Crisis Management is no exception.
No matter how gifted and capable the dive operator becomes in media management techniques the final outcome in a crisis situation will almost certainly be governed by the operator’s previously demonstrated attitude towards safety; the measures that they have already put in place to prevent a possible incident, and the precautions that they continue to take to protect their customers from harm.
Intended as an adaptable guide rather than a comprehensive and in-depth study of the media, the suggestions offered in these extracts remain just that, suggestions, not least because media management will always be an art form rather than a precise science.
In late 1999 – in the wake of a spate of highly publicised diving fatalities – I completed a manual intended to help dive industry professionals deal more effectively with negative media publicity.
Although presently in the throes of updating the content to reflect the changing importance of, for example, social media outlets, several sections have a certain timeless relevance that may prove helpful to dive operators. The extract above is taken from that earlier edition.
Categories: Crisis Manual