ADCI and IMCA published the USCG Policy Letter, “Commercial Diving Operations – Equivalent Levels of Safety” last October, which applies to all USCG regulated vessels operating anywhere in the world.
BY PHIL NEWSUM
History and Background
For those contractors operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), it has been a long haul to get legislative change to USCG diving regulations. The genesis of the revision process began in 2007. The National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee (NOSAC) met in Galveston to discuss the need for revision to the diving standards, after a bubble of fatalities had taken place during the glut of restoration work in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I can remember this meeting as though it was yesterday. Bill Crowley had been appointed as the new representative for commercial diving, relieving Mr. Andre Galerne, who was stepping down due to illness. Turns out that would be the last time that I would see Andre as he soon passed away at 81, in 2008. Bill, Andre and I sat down for lunch to discuss how contentious the morning portion of the meeting was. In 2007, both the ADCI and IMCA were vying for USCG recognition as the premier authority on commercial diving guidance. In that 2007 meeting, Bill Crowley and I wanted to impress upon the room that the ADCI had the data which put the recent rash of fatalities in proper perspective. The number of manhours diving in the OCS, relative to the number of fatalities and near misses, showed that commercial diving was statistically one of the safest vocational industries in the U.S. At that time, it was clearly us versus them when it came to ADCI and IMCA. Past failed attempts by the leadership of both associations to work collaboratively made for an atmosphere of zero trust and back biting. I was relatively new in my position as Executive Director of the ADCI and could not establish any credibility with Huge Williams of IMCA (who was the IMCA Chief Executive at that time). Despite the toxic environment of that 2007 meeting, NOSAC did begin the process of having the diving subcommittee look at what changes needed to be made to 46 CFR Part 197 Subpart B.
In 2009, recommendations were submitted to the Coast Guard and got lost in the blackhole of USCG legal. In 2015, after a 6-year period of no efforts to revise the CFR, NOSAC tasked the subcommittee on diving to begin a more comprehensive process of revising the USCG diving regulations, casting a wider net for industry input.
In 2013, Mike Brown was appointed the representative for commercial diving for NOSAC. I served as co-chair for the subcommittee, and I can tell you that I have never served on a subcommittee that was more detailed and process oriented. Once completed in 2015, everyone involved in the process was proud of the subcommittee’s work and there was a high degree of optimism surrounding the monumental changes to 46 CFR Part 197. Once again, the blackhole of USCG legal swallowed the recommendations, with no movement proposed to turn the recommendations into law.
Fast forward to 2017, where the USCG asked NOSAC’s subcommittee on Diving to once again propose recommendations to the current CFR, with the request that it be put in more of a gap-analysis format for easier interpretation by HQ USCG personnel. Despite the understandable frustrations of industry to have to again repeat the work performed in 2015, the subcommittee came together and answered the USCG’s call. NOSAC approved the 2017 recommendations, but because of the Trump administration’s policy of two pieces of legislation to be removed for every new one added, the diving revised diving regulations were relegated to obscurity on the hill.
In February 2018, Mr. Pete Sieniewicz (Technical Advisory – Diving at IMCA) and I met to prepare for a presentation at the IMCA North America Section meeting. Pete simply asked me my thoughts on approaching the USCG together and seeing if they would formally recognize and adopt the ADCI Consensus Standards and IMCA’s D-014 in lieu of the void of any current relevant guidance on commercial diving under Coast Guard jurisdiction. While I was not too overly optimistic of the concept at the time, I was astute enough to realize that if we thought things out and looked at all facets of such a concept, there may be some interest on the part of the USCG. After presenting in D.C. at the ADCI-USCG Partnership Action Team meeting, we were presently surprised to see that there was an appetite on the part of the USCG to explore this concept. Captain Sean Brady and Mr. Ken Smith showed the greatest and suggested that we present the concept at the next Spring 2018 NOSAC meeting. It was at that meeting that NOSAC tasked the USCG to develop a policy letter as a workaround for not being able to revise the current CFR.
It should be noted that since 2009, both ADCI and IMCA had begun to work together to address issues of safety in commercial diving. While there are many factors which lead to the collaborative relationship between the two associations, the International Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) deserves the lion share of credit for bringing the two associations together.
In October of 2020, the USCG Policy Letter, “Commercial Diving Operations – Equivalent Levels of Safety” was published, which applies to all USCG regulated vessels operating anywhere in the world. The Policy Letter not only improves diving safety within USCG jurisdiction, but more importantly bears proof to the fact that when ADCI and IMCA work together, there is no industry challenge that can’t be overcome.
The policy letter provides guidance on Coast Guard acceptance of both ADCI and IMCA industry recognized standards (ADCI International Consensus Standards for Commercial Diving and Underwater Operations [current edition] and IMCA’s International Code of Practice for Offshore Diving [current edition]) as being equivalent to the standards contained in 46 CFR Part 197, Subpart B. It also goes on to state that, “The Coast Guard reviewed the commercial diving standards established by ADCI and IMCA and determined that commercial diving operations being performed in accordance with the applicable provisions of the following industry standards provides an equivalent level of safety to the commercial diving regulations found in 46 CFR 197.300 through 197.462, covering equipment, operations, diving mode procedures, periodic tests and inspections.
When asked, Pete Sieniewicz had this to say about the issuance of the policy letter: “This newly published policy letter points a way forward for the benefit of the industry and the practical application of the USCG Code of Regulation (CFR). We have worked closely with ADCI over the last five years and specifically on this goal since 2018, which has included many meetings with the USCG and the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee’s (NOSAC) Subcommittee on Diving.”
The policy letter broke new ground for both the commercial diving industry and the USCG. As such, ADCI and IMCA will work closely with the Coast Guard to address all FAQs from industry, as well USCG inspectors and investigators, to ensure that all parties understand the intent of the letter and define any potential financial impact to industry as a result of the policy letter.
The ADCI, IMCA and the USCG want to make sure that the policy letter does not stand in the way of work, and more importantly, does not convey a message that contractors need to be members of either association to be in compliance with the Coast Guard’s Policy Letter. I cannot stress the importance of all contractors operating in USCG jurisdiction to review the 14 October 2020 policy letter and seek any needed clarification from one or both associations, and the USCG.
Both ADCI and IMCA are committed to working together to address all issues of safety in commercial diving with respect to operations, equipment, training and certification. Safety is not proprietary.
For more information on the USCG Policy Letter on Commercial Diving Operations – Equivalent Levels of Safety16703 CG-OES Policy Letter No. 02-20 go to the USCG website at https://tinyurl.com/vyfplwqx. It covers purpose; action; directives affected. Background; policy; disclaimer; and environmental aspect and impact considerations. It also provides an information point for any questions.