Scheduled Maintenance - President's Day Weekend
The U.S. Department of Labor will be conducting scheduled system maintenance beginning Friday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. ET through Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8 a.m. ET. Some pages may be temporarily unavailable. To report an emergency, file a complaint with OSHA, or to ask a safety and health question, call 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Commercial Diving Safety

Nearly 10,000 workers employed as commercial divers, government divers, and sea harvesters face an exceptionally high risk of death and serious physical harm on the job. An average of 6 to 13 diving-related fatalities occur each year, (1,2) corresponding to a risk of between 28 and 50 deaths per thousand workers over a working lifetime of 45 years. OSHA's existing standards, last updated in 1978, do not adequately reflect the numerous changes in the technology of diving systems and equipment since that time. OSHA is developing an action plan to protect these workers but is not initiating rulemaking at this time.

Hazard Description

Professional divers consist of a diverse group of individuals and companies involved in a wide range of activities. For example, commercial diving operations include: off-shore oil rig and pipeline maintenance and repair; salvage operations; bridge and pier construction, inspection and repair; power plant intake and discharge construction, inspection and repair; ship and barge inspection and repair; dam construction, inspection and repair; scientific study; emergency response, investigation and recovery operations; and seafood harvesting and underwater agriculture.

although the commercial diving population is small, with approximately 10,000 employees, they experience a very high rate of fatalities. An average of six (1) to thirteen (2) diving fatalities occur each year, which corresponds to a risk of between 28 and 50 deaths per thousand workers over a working lifetime of 45 years.

Today's professional 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. All employees who dive as part of their job assignment, whether classified as commercial divers or not, are exposed to underwater hazards. The type of dive, the length of dive, the frequency of dive, and the type of operation increase the already high risk of this strenuous work.

Diver safety depends upon adequate training and supervision, appropriate and reliable equipment, effective rescue resources, and proper work practices. Considerable risk results from inadequate manning levels and division of responsibilities by dive teams for surface-supplied air while diving at depths less than 100 feet where decompression procedures are not used. Additional hazards are also associated with the actual work of underwater cutting and welding, materials handling, hull scrubbing, and other types of work utilizing hand and power tools.

Current Status

The OSHA requirements for commercial diving operations were last updated in 1978 and do not reflect the numerous changes in technology, equipment, and practices since that time.

Other institutions have developed and use up-to-date standards. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has approved commercial diver training standards (3). The Association of Diving Contractors, Inc. has developed consensus standards in concert with all sectors of the diving industry and government. These standards have been in use since 1975 and are updated annually. The United States Navy has developed a Diving Manual. (4) Governmental agencies that are not covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, such as state police, county seawall inspectors, and emergency rescue teams, often use OSHA standards as guidelines when creating their own diving safety programs.


Commercial diving safety meets several of the criteria for designation as an OSHA priority. although this industry employs only a small number of workers, the risks of fatal injury are extremely high and there are known protective measures which could save lives. In addition, industry representatives have shown a strong interest in pursuing additional measures to protect workers.

  1. NIOSH (1980-1991). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities Surveillance System (NTOF).
  2. Analysis of data from the Divers Alert Network, National Underwater Accident Data Center at the University of Rhode Island (Yearly Reports on Diving Accidents & Fatalities), OSHA's First Reports of Serious Accidents, and other accident reports.
  3. ANSI (1993). American National Standards Institute/Association of Commercial Diver Educators (ASDE), 01-1993.
  4. United States Navy, 0994-LP-9010, approved by OSHA as an alternate standard for U.S. Government divers; revised 1993.

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.