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How OSHA Standards Apply to Public Safety Diving Teams

“Hey Chief! OSHA Inspector is here, he’s in your office…”

by Darrell Adams:
erdi ps diverMany dive teams get hung up on trying to figure out if the “Commercial Dive Standard” applies to them and in the meantime forget that OSHA standards and guidelines encompass a variety of other workplace safety issues. In the great debate of whether or not OSHA has jurisdiction, or a standard applies, depends on several variables. First, do you even operate in an area that is subject to OSHA compliance? Outside the USA and its territories this conversation may be moot but that doesn’t mean that these standards do not have merit, can improve workplace safety, and reduce risk to employees if an organization implements them. Second, is there an employee and employer relationship where the employer is obligated to ensure the safety of its employees? This question can be answered by determining if there exists a relationship based upon monetary compensation and/or the act of providing insurance to said person(s). The “Safety and Health Standards: Occupational Safety and Health” website may be of help in developing a basic understanding of OSHA’s purpose and the employer’s responsibilities. http://www.dol.gov/elaws/elg/osha.htm. Another place an employer should reference is the “Compliance Assistance Quick Start” webpage that provides general information to the basic housekeeping regulations he or she may be subject to. https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/quickstarts/general_industry/gi_step1.html. Third, is there an “exemption” that may apply to the standard that allows an organization to opt out of compliance with a standard or regulation due to a certain set of circumstances or provisions that are met?

These questions lead us to the great debate that has existed for years in Public Safety Diving (PSD), “Do we have to comply with OSHA regulations?” The answer is: “Yes and no”.

There are four major groupings of OSHA regulations. They are: General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture. Within each of these regulations there exist many sub-regulations that may have application to an organization. An organization really needs to do its own research into each of these areas to determine if they are applicable to them. The regulation section that is most famously referenced in the PSD arena is: “The commercial diving operations standard does not apply to diving operations under the following conditions….. 29 CFR 1910.401(a)(2)(ii). Diving solely for search, rescue, or related public-safety purposes by or under the control of a government agency.” https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-00-151.pdf.

The polarization and scrutiny that this one statement has caused within the PSD community has resulted in marriage breakups, bar fights, and social media battles of wit. But seriously, so many divers in our PSD community get caught up in the determination of application that we fail to see the true purpose of this standard in a commercial setting and its merit in the public safety diving arena. I would challenge everyone to look at the ocean instead of the waves. Take this regulation, read it, dissect it, and relate it to the scope and application for your own organization. Then ask yourself can this help us be a safer organization and what is the cost of doing so versus the cost of not doing so? You may find there are parts of this regulation you already meet, some you could implement fairly easily, and others that will take time and or money, but it can provide you with a framework and a set of goals for which you can strive. There may be parts of this regulation your organization finds are not applicable due to the diving environments and conditions you operate in. In other cases you may find there are environments you should not operate in until you can provide a better risk assessment and compliance. Below are some, but not all, of the other relevant OSHA regulations that should be considered. Take time and see if they apply to your organization.

1910.101 Compressed gases
1910.133 Eye and face protection
1910.134 Respiratory protection
1910.135 Head protection
1910.136 Foot protection
1910.138 Hand protection
1910.146 Permit-required confined spaces
1910.147 The control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
1910.151 Medical services and first aid
1910.183 Helicopters
1910.184 Slings
1910.242 Hand and portable powered tools and equipment, general
1910.1020 Exposure & medical records access
1910.1030 Blood-borne pathogens
1910.1200 Hazard communication
1926.106 Working over or near water

One of the complaints about OSHA is that the regulations at times are outdated and do not keep up with technology and advancements within our industry. OSHA enacted a Standards Improvement Project (SIP)-III in 2010 which is “a proposed rule to revise and remove requirements within several OSHA standards that are outdated, duplicative or inconsistent. This rulemaking will help keep OSHA standards up-to-date and will help employers better understand their regulatory obligations.” As professionals in the industry we can make recommendations and suggest changes. The websites for this are: http://www.regulations.gov/ or https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=17928

OSHA regulations are designed to keep employees safe and are not a bad idea to consider if they can help you keep employees safe and can keep costs down by preventing injuries. OSHA will also reference the CDC NIOSH recommendations when conducting investigations. These recommendations can be found by searching diver fatality reports on the CDC: NIOSH website. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/. These reports can provide invaluable insight into why public safety diver fatalities happen and how we can prevent or reduce the risk of similar events from happening in the future. Another great article on this subject is “OSHA Standards and PSD Teams” by Michael Glenn. https://www.tdisdi.com/osha-standards-and-psd-teams-are-we-really-exempt/.


Darrell Adams
SDI/TDI/ERDI Instructor Trainer with Air Hogs Scuba in Garner, NC, Captain with the Harnett County Underwater Search & Recovery Dive Team and technical rescue instructor for the NC Fire and Rescue Commission.

2 replies
  1. Bill Nichols
    Bill Nichols says:

    An important point is a team should be following the standards of the agency they are trained by. If their training agency follows OSHA / NFPA the team will be, or should be as well.

    Reply
  2. john
    john says:

    Standard means not law, regulations are law. In most states that follow OSHA the commercial diving section is regulation. I think OSHA regulations should be much more strict especially in public safety diving. Every non medical condition related public safety diver death I have ever heard of would’ve never happened if they were surface supplied and following OSHA general and commercial diving regulations.

    Reply

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