A well respected commercial diving supervisor working on the offshore oil and gas rigs once told me that, ‘the ability to dive is not a panacea for the skills one lacks.’; a piece of wisdom that’s often overlooked by those recreational divers who apparently view the transition to occupational diving as a way of being paid for doing something that they enjoy.
The similarities between commercial and recreational diving are obvious: Both require specialised equipment in order to maintain life in an alien environment; they both require a sound knowledge of the essential physics and physiological effects of diving; and both of them require a mastery of certain basic skills. But it’s at that point that they part company.
While the recreational diver has the luxury of choosing when, where and with whom they will dive – and is generally little more than a passive observer of the underwater world – the commercial diver is tasked with a variety of jobs requiring the use of specialised tools and techniques; sometimes in water depths and conditions that, at best, may be regarded as challenging! As far as the commercial diver is concerned life-support equipment and a sound knowledge of its proper use is nothing more than a vehicle for getting to the work site and safely back again after completion of the job.
As an occupation, commercial diving has come a long way. No longer the un-regulated and risky activity that it once was, it’s now recognised that safety stems from proper and appropriate training for the varied tasks that commercial divers are called upon to perform.
Concerned by the enormous number of diving fatalities that plagued the North Sea offshore oil and gas industries during the early ‘seventies, the U.K. Government became the first to introduce universal legislation directed at both off-shore and on-shore occupational diving activities with the stated aim of ensuring that equipment, operational procedures and personnel were adequate in all respects to meet the high risks involved. Administered by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive (H.S.E.), the system of personnel selection and training came to be regarded as the world’s ‘Best Practice’.
Recognising the need for a similar competency-based standard for occupational diver training, Australia adopted a similar framework to produce, in the early ‘nineties, its own Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme (ADAS) that was subsequently re-written as an Australian Standard, (the AS2815 series), and incorporated into existing legislation covering diving operations.
Now taught through a number of Accredited Diver Training Establishments, (ADTE’s), scattered around the country, there are four levels of full-time Commercial Diver training.
AS2815.1 is the first level of accreditation as a commercial diver and covers commercial SCUBA diving to 30 metres. Limiting the diver to the use of small hand tools, or conducting inspections in no-decompression dives with direct access to the surface, it is ideally suited to marine archaeologists, research divers, inspection engineers, media and the like. (Although a four-week course, this may be abbreviated to ten-days for recreational divemasters and Instructors through the Recognition of Prior Learning [RPL] scheme.)
AS2815.2 is directed to training commercial on-shore AIR divers to 30 metres, and includes the use of surface supplied breathing apparatus, cutting and welding equipment, as well as pneumatic and hydraulic tools.
AS2815.3 is the off-shore commercial AIR diver qualification enabling the diver to work in the off-shore diving industry, to a maximum depth of 50 metres, using a full range of underwater tools and air breathing apparatus. It also includes the use of wet bells, surface decompression with oxygen, and hyperbaric chamber use.
AS2815.4 is for mixed gas saturation diving, enabling the diver to operate in depths to the maximum limit of the equipment being used, providing that it is commensurate with safe diving practice.
In each instance the selection criteria for training is well defined and implies that the applicant has successfully completed the pre-requisite level of training.
Commercial diving can be both mentally and financially rewarding as well as enjoyable. But it only becomes so once people realise that it bears little relationship to the pleasure and enjoyment that is – or should be – the hallmark of all recreational diving activities.
NB. The above article first appeared in Scuba Diver Magazine in March 200. Since that time there have been modifications to the training standards.