Since 1997
Caring For Your Facilities
by Francois Burman on August 4th, 2016

​The DAN-SA Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment programme promotes a culture of safety at diving businesses. With proper care for your facilities, clients are assured that your business is serious about safety.
A diving business requires three things to serve its clients, namely the right water environment, the right people and the right facilities. Individual diving businesses use different combinations of services and infrastructure to establish themselves. It would, however, be rather unusual to see any diving business without at least a basic shop, a compressor, a store room and a service or repair station. Given these common features, we can easily apply the same core hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA) process to ensure the safety of all of these components – including the economic viability and financial security of the entire business. There may be some unique exposures to consider, but in most cases the HIRA principles can be extrapolated to any situation.

This process can be applied in such a way that not only assures a safe facility, but also assures clients that the business is serious about safety.

Apart from the clients’ interests, however, diving businesses also represent a large financial and human investment, which is usually built up over many years and therefore this needs to be protected from inadvertent and careless losses as well.

So, let us see how to identify the relevant hazards, assess the real risks, mitigate these risks and then monitor the efforts to ensure that the facilities are safe, effective and protected. We offer a more thorough framework that is typical for the average diving facility below.

The Shop

​Every business needs a front-of-house or an attractive way to greet its clients. The type and nature will vary with the location and whether diving equipment is sold or rented out. To achieve this, a complement of effective, suitably-educated, empowered and equipped staff members is needed. They should be versant in the relevant spoken languages and able to provide information about dive sites, local surroundings and all the areas of concern that visitors should heed rather than discover by accident.

An effective means to train new staff members, retain existing staff members and demonstrate the required duty of care is to keep a procedure manual, which contains all the standard practices of the business on record. This includes the standard response to questions and situations, all the essential information on dealing with emergencies and possible adverse situations, and documentation demonstrating compliance with the national and local regulations and by-laws.

In building a working environment that supports productivity and reduces fatigue, a business should pay close attention to ergonomics, space utilisation, suitable flooring and house-keeping in order to keep the flow of activities running smoothly. Adequate lighting, good ventilation and air-conditioning to maintain comfortable environmental temperatures (which is rarely the natural state of popular diving areas) will further reduce workspace fatigue and the chances of staff members making mistakes.

Nobody wants to live in fear of disaster, but if a diving business is prepared and equipped, it can deal with emergencies in a way that reassures its staff members, as well as its clients, while mitigating the situation. Easy access to all the necessary emergency numbers and service providers, as well as the actual means to reach them, is absolutely essential. In the case of a disaster, it is important to provide for emergency exits, fire and security control measures, warning alarms and sufficient first aid supplies.

These are all logical and practical measures and none of them are entirely new to us. However, by systematically checking which everything which is needed is in place, a diving business will maintain both its facilities as well as the skills to manage it. It will also highlight likely concerns and enhance the business’s safety profile from the moment the guests enter the premises.

​The Compressor

​With few exceptions, all scuba diving operations will have their own compressors or ready access to one. Some may have cylinders that are filled off-site, but most are likely to cater for rental and filling in-house. Whatever the option, there are specific safety issues associated with the handling of compressed gases and the associated equipment.

The Compressed Gas Area

A diving operation needs to pay particular attention to the appropriate occupational health and safety requirements regarding the active area where gas is compressed and stored. The working machinery needs to be clearly demarcated and access should be restricted to authorised staff only. All personnel should wear protective shoes, eye protection and hearing protection (a noisy area means that staff members’ hearing needs to be regularly screened too). Possible fire hazards and the means to deal with these emergencies need identification, equipment and specially-trained staff members.

​Compressors, Boosters and the Gas-Handling Plant

The most important risk-mitigating factor in dealing with potentially dangerous equipment is having competent, well-trained staff members. All compressed-gas operators must be properly trained and declared competent to work in this area. This is one of those areas where formal appointments and clear job descriptions are essential. Machine guards, supporting rails, properly-connected electrical junctions and safe electrical supplies are the common inspection areas for visiting authorities. The gas compressing plant needs a rigorous inspection and maintenance programme, checking that monitoring instruments function, intakes are out of harm’s way, exhaust gases are routed away from intakes or occupied areas, checklists are followed and maintenance schedules and logs are duly kept up to date. No gas compressing machinery should be left unattended or at least unmonitored while switched on. All waste materials and fluids need proper storage and disposal procedures.

Scuba Diving and Storage Cylinders

A diving operation often has a combination of owned, rented or guest property cylinders. Therefore, additional checks need to be put in place. The industry cornerstone of safety is to ensure that all cylinders handled by the business are “in-date”, visually acceptable, and where they are part of the business’s assets, formally registered on an inventory with their current and future visual and hydrostatic test dates recorded.

A compressed gas cylinder contains an enormous amount of stored energy and must be handled, stored and mounted using the appropriate equipment. A technique that can be used to prevent mixing with the wrong gases is to ensure that client cylinders are emptied prior to being filled. Topping up a cylinder without knowing what is in the cylinder may prove fatal.

Air Quality Programme

The only way to provide safe breathing air is by paying attention to where the air comes from and how it is handled. Diving operators should start with the intake and ensure that the area is clearly demarcated, warning signs are put in place and public access is restricted.

Carbon monoxide is not only a contaminant gas (for example, an intake problem) as it can also be produced by an overheating compressor (for example, a maintenance problem). A strictly-monitored air-filtering programme should be adhered to, using high-quality filter media which is suitable for the actual environment. The air quality system should be documented with regular testing (typically monthly), and monitoring of trends and reviews to confirm that the standards are met. Diving operators must take note of any client complaints, and they must be vigilant to subtle changes in the air-compressing and quality system.

​Oxygen-Enriched Gases

Oxygen-enriched gases require even more diligence due to the increased fire hazards. All enriched gases, especially pure oxygen, need a dedicated set of filling and handling instructions, procedures and even tools. Contamination by hydrocarbons, flammable liquids and vapours, and even certain lubricants must be avoided.

The Store Room

​Most dive operators have encountered a storage area with piles of unused goods that form a perilous mountain, threatening to tumble down and hurt someone, or at least cause some damage. There are a few basic rules to follow for an equipment and diving gear store room:
  • The lighting should be adequate for the application.
  • Ventilation is important in combating rot and the build-up of harmful fumes.
  • It is safer to move about and it is easier to retrieve things in a proper storage space with secure, higher-placed items.
  • All diving gear and items that degrade when exposed to ultraviolet rays should be kept away from direct sunlight.
  • Hygiene and infection control are essential for all equipment and gear that is to be handled by staff members or clients.
  • Stores contain burnable materials, especially when things are left lying around for long periods of time. Ensure that fire-fighting measures and equipment are in place and keep clearly flammable materials in separate, controlled areas.

The Service Station

​Most diving operations will have some type of workshop for maintenance and repairs. This might range from some kind of essential repair station to a fully-equipped instrument workshop and service centre. The critical function here is to ensure that the business is not derailed due to basic equipment that is not fit for service, as the essential spare parts are not available, or due to sudden breakages or losses. In some cases, servicing is outsourced if the necessary skills are not available in-house. However, we all at least acknowledge the fact that life-supporting breathing apparatus needs to be serviced and be able to function effectively and safely. Cleaning, servicing and repair work introduce their own hazards with respect to chemicals, aerosols, sharp and heavy items, as well as longer-term health issues.

Basic maintenance services, even simple regular inspection and identification of faults in need of servicing or repair, is an essential aspect of ensuring diving safety. The training of staff members on the required diving equipment maintenance, ranging from safety inspections through to full service and repair, should be a minimum requirement. The access to maintenance areas should be limited to prevent theft and tampering, and to prevent unauthorised persons from exposure to sharp or heavy tools, dangerous chemicals and other associated hazards.

All workshop facilities require good lighting, adequate ventilation and ergonomically-suitable working facilities. Protective equipment and clothing should be available to workshop or maintenance staff members. The chemical, electrical and mechanical hazards associated with these activities should be clearly identified and suitable notifications should be placed for staff to see. In addition, appropriate and well-maintained first aid kits should be located within easy reach of all maintenance and service activities.

​In Conclusion

​Even though diving businesses vary geographically and in terms of size, complexity, clientele, scope of services and even age, all these facilities share certain integral and essential elements to permit dive training and diving activities.

Many divers now choose their future diving destinations online. Word-of-mouth recommendations also form a major part of engaging with clients, therefore visible commitments to quality and safety form a major part of the final decision. You will more likely succeed in attracting clients if your operation is well-organised and managed to the point where a quick glance shows that diving safety begins behind the scenes in the business too. The HIRA programme offers the opportunity to provide that.

Scuba diving might be a recreational activity, but the way of making this available to the participants, and not only where financial remuneration is concerned, is an area that is covered by occupational health and safety regulations. Ultimately, whether selling a certification, a diving excursion, equipment or even an equipment service, there are always facilities involved. These facilities need to be functional and safe. By paying attention to the essential behind-the-scenes areas critical to safety, the inadvertent disruption of a business becomes less likely and success becomes more probable.

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Peter Southwood - November 10th, 2016 at 5:27 AM
Where is the how to do it yourself guide to dive operator HIRA?
The DAN Team - November 15th, 2016 at 11:00 PM
As always thank you for taking the time to read the DAN blog posts. To answer your question regarding the HIRA guide. It is available as a downloadable link at the bottom of all the HIRA blog posts this month. However I have sent you an email and attached the guide for your convenience. At present we are developing the programme further and will be creating an in depth dive business risk assessment guide similar to what we created for chamber facilities. This is still in progress and needs quite a bit of time to develop. If you need any additional advice you are welcome to contact the hotline. You can contact the DAN hotline toll-free in South Africa on 0800 020 111 or internationally on 27 828 10 60. Alternatively you can email your contact phone number to the DAN medic on call to

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