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Page last reviewed: 06/08/2007
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Commercial Diving

Commercial diving involves a diverse group of individuals and companies involved in a wide range of activities.These workers are exposed to the same hazards anyone would if they spent extended periods of time underwater, such as drowning, respiratory and circulatory problems, and hypothermia. The number of dives, length of time spent underwater, lack of visibility, and the strenuous nature of the task increase the risk of this type of activity. Additionally, commercial divers are often exposed to construction or demolition type hazards such as cutting, welding, material handling, cleaning, operation of heavy equipment, and general work with power tools.

Commercial diving hazards are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, marine terminals, longshoring, and the construction industry.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards and directives (instructions for compliance officers) related to commercial diving.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

  • 1915 Subpart A, General provisions
    • 1915.6, Commercial diving operations. Commercial diving operations shall be subject to 1910 Subpart T.

Marine Terminals (29 CFR 1917)

  • 1917 Subpart A, Scope and definitions
    • 1917.1, Scope and applicability. 1910 Subpart T applies to marine terminals.

Longshoring (29 CFR 1918)

  • 1918 Subpart A, Scope and definitions
    • 1918.1, Scope and application. 1910 Subpart T applies to longshoring operations.

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)


Hazards and Solutions

Commercial divers are exposed not only to the possibility of drowning but also to a variety of occupational safety and health hazards such as respiratory and circulatory risks, hypothermia, low visibility, and physical injury from the operation of heavy equipment under water. The type, length, frequency of dive and the type of operation increase the already high risk of this strenuous work. Additional hazards are also associated with the actual work, such as underwater cutting and welding, materials handling, hull scrubbing, and use of hand and power tools. The following references aid in recognizing and controlling commercial diving hazards.

  • A common type of health hazard associated with commercial diving is "Dysbarism". Dysbarism is a generic term applicable to any adverse health effect due to a difference between ambient pressure and the total gas pressure in tissues, fluids, or cavities of the body (1-7). [more...]

  • Examining Fatal Shipyard Accidents. OSHA Video. Provides animated re-enactments of fatal accidents investigated by OSHA.

  • DAN (Divers Alert Network). Duke University, Office of Information Technology.

Safety and Health Programs

An effective safety and health program depends on the credibility of management's involvement in the program, inclusion of employees in safety and health decisions, rigorous worksite analysis to identify hazards and potential hazards, including those which could result from a change in worksite conditions or practices, stringent prevention and control measures, and thorough training. It addresses hazards whether or not they are regulated by government standards. The following resources provide information that can help employers develop and implement a safety and health program.

Additional Information

  • Organizations involved in diving medical emergencies include:
    • USA - Navy Experimental Diving Unit, (904) 230-3100.
    • USA - Naval Medical Research Institute, (301) 295-1839.
    • Canada - Diving Division of the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine, (416) 635-2000.
    • England - Institute of Naval Medicine, [44] 1705 722-351.
    • General information may also be obtained from the following:
      • Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (301 942-2980)
      • National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology (504- 366-8871)

  • Navy Experimental Diving Unit. US Navy, Supervisor of Salvage (SUPSALV). NEDU acts as an information clearinghouse for both the military and the public/commercial sectors; publishes technical and scientific reports; and cooperates in research and development with academia and industry in hyperbaric materials, technology, medicine, and physiology.

  • Hammerhead Press. Provides books for scuba, technical, professional & commercial (deep-sea) divers, as well as free articles on commercial diving topics.

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