Tuesday 4th March, 2008

 

Taking a dive

 
 
 
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Gordon Hay, right, discusses the dive with a local commercial diving student.

BY ADRIAN BOODAN

GLENN Cheddie, the owner operator of Underwater Works Inc, has all intentions of lifting the standards of the local commercial diving industry. Cheddie said through the proper training, local divers can attain international standards and adapt safe operating diving procedures.

Cheddie said the industry in its present state suffers from a lack of trained divers which he believes can one day prove fatal and create chaos and trauma if the proper steps are not put in place to raise the standards to the level required under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Osha).

Cheddie said many “so-called commercial” diving operators are using “Scuba” (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear to perform technical commercial diving operations. He said Scuba gear was designed for recreational use and not for staying underwater for a long period of time while doing complex operations as underwater welding and related activities.

Cheddie warns that using scuba equipment for commercial jobs are like playing Russian roulette with one’s life since almost all accidents that take place on a dive, ends with a fatality because the plain and simple truth is that “humans cannot breathe in water.”

Cheddie said lady luck is still holding strong at some operations, but he feels that when the luck runs out, several fingers would be pointing at the agencies responsible for the safety of workers.

Cheddie claimed that some state agencies and private companies are employing Scuba gear-based commercial operations because they are able to pay (charge) low “piper rates" (less than $500 to do a job).

Short cut/long cut

He said when he initially intended to start talks with the T&T Bureau of Standard and the Osha team, he received a lot of criticism from the Scuba gear based operators who felt that they would be run out of business. Cheddie said these operators are not willing to undertake the cost of training their divers nor are they willing to purchase the proper equipment, but are interested in cashing in on a fast dollar.

Cheddie said several of the larger T&T-based diving operations have decompression chambers for treating divers who develop the inescapable problem of developing nitrogen gas bubbles in their bloodstream. A decompression chamber helps to rid the body of the unwanted gas by raising and slowly lowering the pressure inside the chamber.

The bad news, according to Cheddie, is that Tobago has only one outdated decompression chamber at Roxborough, even though the island continues to attract hundreds of divers annually, many are doing so at their own risk without even knowing it. He cautioned: “Tourism will be affected because a lot of foreign divers first enquire of the availability, readiness and type of decompression chamber available before making dive plans.”

Safety first

Cheddie said because of his love for the industry and his personal vision to see more and more people get involved in commercial diving he has, at his own cost, employed the assistance of Gordon Hay, the former president and now director of the Canadian Association of Diving Contractors to conduct a commercial diving assessment (course) at his Chaguanas facilities.

Hay, who also runs the Canadian Working Divers Institute, a diving school based north-east of Toronto in the Kawartha Highlands, said he was extremely appalled to hear that some commercial diving operators in T&T are still using scuba gear.

Hay said in a properly executed commercial operation the diver is supplied with back-up staff; and air is pumped from two surface-supplied lines to the diver who is equipped with a back up tank.

Hay said if one of the air lines fail, the dive is aborted. Safety is improved ten fold when surface can communicate with the diver and hear if there is a problem.

Good local talent

Hay said T&T has the potential and the market for an increased number of trained commercial divers.

However these jobs are instead going to foreigners with the training and expertise. He added that he was part of Canadian team that took 20 years to develop standards for divers in that country to ensure that safety was paramount.

He said T&T should not have to wait until divers suffer a fatality then to bring about regulations.

On the Canadian standards, Hay added that the Divers Certification Board of Canada (DCBC) has the safest training and operating standards in the world.

Hay said it has taken the Canadians years to get acceptance and approval of their certification around the world.

He said: “There is no reason why T&T should go through the lengthy process and try to re-invent the wheel for this reason.”

Cheddie said he hopes to develop a training school in Trinidad that will certify standards through the DCBC since the DCBC certification is approved by the international marine contractors association (IMCA) whose operators work in local waters.

Cheddie added that foreign companies who are not even IMCA certified are allowed to do commercial diving work in T&T. He said two large local IMCA approved companies are being bypassed.

Cheddie revealed that a local contract was awarded recently to an uncertified Mexican firm that was able to offer the lowest bid in the tendering process.

Cheddie says he hopes that his work with the TTBS should eventually see the enactment of laws that regulate the industry to the highest international standard.

Decompression

sickness

Decompression sickness, caused by nitrogen gas in the blood, is no laughing matter. Nitrogen gas is a major component of the air humans breathe, however as a diver goes deeper, the pressure of the water causes the nitrogen to dissolve in the bloodstream. If the diver surfaces too fast the rapid pressure changes cause the nitrogen bubbles to literally pop up in the bloodstream and around the joints.

Imagine removing the lid from a freshly shaken bottle of beer.

Whilst the lid was on the bottle the drink was held under pressure. When removed the ambient pressure drops and the gas causes the drink to froth out of the bottle.

Similarly, a diver that ascends too rapidly can cause the nitrogen in the blood system to form bubbles in areas where they can become trapped and cause decompression illness which is an umbrella term for both decompression sickness (DCS) and cerebral arterial gas embolism (CAGE).

These can lead to the formation of emboli that cause adverse physiological effects by obstructing blood flow, damaging tissues or nerves. It is the size of these bubbles, their location, and the ability (or inability) of the body to rid itself of them before they cause damage.

A decompression chamber helps to rid the body of the unwanted gas.

Indepth information on DCS and its treatment can be found on the

Web site:http://www.sdm.scot.nhs.uk/index.htm

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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