Research into worldwide public safety diving operations and incidents

Nicholas Bailey

Discovering Safety

Across the world 50 Public Safety Divers (PSD) from the Police and Fire and Rescue services around the world from 2005 to the present, have died either during deployment in an attempt to rescue someone that has already been in the water beyond what might be survivable or during a training scenario.  A large number of these fatalities were avoidable with correct oversight and proper training.

However: 

  • The number of other types of incidents is not known as only the fatalities tend to be reported in news media. 
  • Recreational diving agencies, who receive data from divers, Search and Rescue Agencies, hyperbaric facilities and news media on incidents occurring around the world, would indicate that fatalities are a small part of the overall number of incidents annually. 
  • Of the fatalities recorded, 22 occurred during training exercises. One fatality occurred during an early stage training session in a swimming pool.

Aims and objectives

Around the world, many teams are involved in some way with PSD. This project aimed to collate data on PSD activities for each country and to review how they are regulated by the respective authorities. A further aim was to look at the risk assessments used by the teams prior to deploying a diver, and at the training methods, the supervision of the diving project, the equipment used, how incidents were reported, and how lessons were learnt during operations. 

To carry out the research a literary search for diving incidents involving Public Safety Divers (PSD) was undertaken along with a request for information from PSD teams, trainers and regulatory bodies on aspects on how a team works. A workshop was also held to discuss diving practices, training and regulating of PSD’s. 

Key findings

The study found that there are aspects of the regulatory framework behind the dive team that could be improved. The training available in other parts of the world could be improved to provide the diver with greater skill sets and that some equipment configurations may not be suitable to support the diver when in fast moving water or if they have a problem with their supply of gas or are trapped. 

The findings of this review were that: 

  • Deploying a diver in flood conditions or fast flowing water can lead to equipment being dislodged, or to entanglement with debris within the water flow. 
  • The Full Face Mask (FFM) used by nearly all Police or Fire teams has no second gas supply connection. If the demand valve or the supply to the demand valve fails there is no alternative but to remove the mask to retrieve an alternate gas supply. In cold water this can be difficult to carry out and in contaminated water could lead to infection or poisoning of the diver. 

Recommendations

There is limited knowledge on incidents from other parts of the world that are not fatalities as these are reported less. A system to collate these would provide data so trends or patterns of incidents could be spotted. Discussions should be held with the manufacturer of the FFM, used by most dive teams worldwide, to develop a second gas supply into the mask to negate the need to remove the mask when the main gas supply fails or runs out.

In conclusion, improved guidance should be made available to regulators in areas where there are limited resources or where oversight has been handed down from a higher authority. The development, following further discussions with PSD and regulatory bodies, of a guidance document that provides the “Best Practice for Public Safety Diving“ should be produced and made available worldwide.