Underwater Wakulla- August 9, 2018

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The Face of Safety in Diving By GREGG STANTON

The Face of Safety in Diving

As you know, I have spent several weeks in Hawaii helping Veterans Administration participants train on Rebreathers after the death of a student in their program. I brought back from that experience a desire to re-evaluate the way we treat safety in our diving community. I return to Hawaii next week to make presentations to bring a fractured community together there again.

Safe is defined as an activity without risk. Everyone would agree that diving, like driving, is not safe as there are risks. We can also agree that as things fall apart leading up to an incident challenges get more frequent and severe. We also know that as humans, we multi-task¸ but only to a point. We usually can effectively manage no more than two to three issues at a time. Because of this observation, cave divers have the three "Oh S____ts" Rule that stipulates that after three challenges, they stop the dive. To them, three mistakes means they are not ready to manage the complexities of the upcoming dive. After all, the safest dive is no dive at all.

At a recent USCG Auxiliary Joint Task Force training event this weekend in Alabama, I met with a pilot who suggested we take a look at the topic of safety from a different perspective. He called it the reduction of options model. Flying an airplane, is very similar in many ways to diving underwater. In the end, we agreed this model can be applied to safe boating as well. He argued we currently begin our assessment of risk as we approach our activity rationalizing away challenges as we encounter them, a bottom up approach. Instead, he suggested we consider the consequences of each element of our activity and list our options should conditions change, a top down approach.

As our conditions change, so do our options. Good planning would provide as many options as is reasonably possible. One would agree that a diver, pilot or boater should carry adequate fuel (breathing gas or gasoline). Adequate would be defined by folks differently. Divers have come to appreciate the rule of thirds, but so do boaters and pilots: one third to go out, one third to come back and one third for contingences.  That extra third is an option many don't take along. Now add the change in weather (below, on or above the water) and the extra third is invaluable.

We must begin by evaluating the consequence of various elements of our activity. What is the consequence of fuel to the activity. If not enough, we are at best adrift at sea, or forced to land in some undesirable location, or face a long swim back to the boat. Preventative maintenance may also be used in this discussion. Regulators in diving are reliable when routinely inspected and worn out parts replaced. Boat engines also have parts that ware out with use and require periodic replacement. Airplane maintenance is mandated by federal policy for the same reasons. Preventative maintenance suggests you don't wait for the item to fail. Failure to do so means you have less options when this technology is stressed.

When we investigate an incident, the event is often predictable in hindsight. The conclusion is often that the incident was preventable, had we only considered he consequences of our preparations. This is what is referred to as a top down approach to safety.