© 2008-2013 Marine Marketing and Consulting. All rights reserved.
Professional divers fall in a category between the recreational (sport) diver and the commercial diver who works heavy construction, such as an oilfield diver or someone who does salvage of large vessels. Some of the divers who occupy the professional niche include professional underwater cameramen, marine biologists, public safety divers (fire, sheriff, police) and divers who clean boat bottoms. Many of the divers in this category are not well trained and often use recreational diving gear that may be inappropriate for the type of work they must perform.
Public safety divers are among the most poorly supported divers in many parts of the U.S. They may have little or no training beyond recreational scuba diving and they are often exposed to very cold temperatures and pollutants at the sites where they must dive. They are usually highly motivated individuals who will take risks in order to save a life or recover evidence or a body.
Properly trained public safety divers normally dive with full-face masks, dry suits, dry gloves, communications, and a tether line. They follow strict protocols and have a chain of command for their dive operations. A "risk-benefit analysis" is performed for every dive to ensure the life of a public safety diver is never risked to recover a dead body. There are several organizations that offer proper training for this type of diving.
The majority of public safety dives take place in zero visibility in water that is mildly to highly polluted. There have been many public safety diving fatalities.
A number of divers work to harvest seafood underwater in coastal states like California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Species that are commercially harvested include geoducks, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. The diver shown here to the left is harvesting sea urchins.
Most seafood divers have had no training for the type of work they do. They frequently use surface-supplied "hookah" systems rather than scuba gear. There have been a number of accidents where the air hose used by these divers has been snared by a passing vessel resulting in severe personal injury or death to the diver.
Some seafood divers work by themselves in order to get around the OSHA regulations regarding employee/employer relationships. This puts the diver at great additional risk since there is no one aboard the vessel to assist the diver in the event of an accident.
Some seafood divers use sport diving computers that were not designed to be used in this type of application. Many dive computer manufacturers now put disclaimers in their literature that their products were not meant to be used in commercial diving operations.
Professional underwater film crews are normally composed of highly experienced divers using advanced equipment, including rebreathers and underwater communications. These divers often work in remote locations, far away from rescue and medical services. They work at great depths and put in long bottom times.
Deaths among this sector of the diving industry are rare, but decompression sickness and oxygen toxicity issues occasionally arise. Due to the remote nature of their work, these divers will sometimes resort to in-water treatment of decompression sickness. This procedure can be hazardous and may not always result in a satisfactory outcome, although it may be the only option available in certain circumstances.
Steven M. Barsky has worked as an expert witness in diving cases involving professional divers in various occupations, including public safety and seafood divers.
Watch this video to learn about some of the potential emergencies that can occur while using a full-face mask.