Diving into Health and Safety

Industry-wide collaboration is advancing health and safety in commercial diving, as ADCI Executive Director Phil Newsum explains to Adjacent Oil & Gas

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Commercial diving has historically been a hazardous area of the oil and gas industry, but with the appropriate medical checks, a collaborative approach to operational management and robust auditing processes in place, the inevitable risks can be mitigated.

Phil Newsum, Executive Director of the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI), spoke to Adjacent Oil & Gas about the work being carried out by ADCI and others to ensure health and safety standards in commercial diving are the best they can be.

At the most basic level, there are a number of critical steps for contractors to take in establishing the physical and psychological capabilities of divers in their employ. “Divers should receive a full physical examination on an annual basis, to ensure they are fit to dive and fit to be exposed to any type of hyperbaric environment or setting,” Newsum says. “In addition, there needs to be some assessment of the diver from both a physical and psychological standpoint on both an individual dive basis and on a job-by-job basis.”

Downturn distractions and dangers

However, a lot can happen from one annual medical examination to the next, so it is up to the contractor—more specifically, the supervisor on any given job—to vet out any potential problems and make certain not to subject their personnel to a situation which could further exacerbate any illness, injury or ailment.

“With the effects of the downturn, a lot of folks at the moment may be distracted by what’s happening at home,” Newsum points out. “Their minds may be on something other than the task at hand. It also means that many divers will subject themselves to work they shouldn’t be doing because jobs are so few and far between. “It really is incumbent upon the contractor to go ahead and make an informal assessment.”

Veterans should be embraced

Newsum also speaks to the large number of veterans who have entered commercial diving over recent years, many of whom are diagnosed with and take medication for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The onus is on the medical and diving communities to be aware of the condition, he says. “There have been some instances of divers not disclosing PTSD due to worries that it may result in their termination or not being sent on a particular job.

Sometimes a job turns out to go a little longer than anticipated and they may run out of their medication. Then some of the psychological issues may start to manifest and present themselves out on the job, which is not a good thing for anyone involved.”

Newsum believes that veterans, not wanting to be viewed as any different to their peers on the job, may still perceive stigma around their diagnosis, but insists that is not the case from the contractors’ point of view.

“I think most of us understand that it is a very real issue and we’re dealing with individuals who will be more than capable of performing underwater or topside tasks,” he expands. “They’re disciplined, they’ve served their respective countries, and they have every right to be able to work in this field. We should embrace that on several levels—because they may be very proficient at what they do, and because that’s something that we owe them.”

Universal standards promote efficiency

Due to the niche nature of the commercial diving industry, real expertise is in relatively short supply. The ability to have someone from the US, say, go to work an asset in West Africa is critical. This is just one of the reasons universal standards in health and safety would be extremely useful, suggests Newsum.

“A universal standard in health and safety makes it much easier to deploy personnel to different areas of the globe. Adhering to a number of different standards in health and safety costs more money and takes more time; it’s not very efficient.

“We’re starting to see folks from the UK and Western Europe come and solicit the input of certified underwater diving physicians here, and they’re able to take that information without having to reinvent the wheel and perform studies that have already been done.”