Diving emergencies

Persons conducting a diving or snorkelling business or undertaking must ensure that they are prepared for emergency situations. Written emergency plans should be developed, kept on site and workers should be trained in their application. As a minimum the plans should cover the following situations:

  • first aid, oxygen and automatic external defibrillators (AEDs)
  • rescue
  • evacuation
  • missing persons.

Other plans should be developed if required.

Examples of additional plans:

  • A plan for emergency recompression might be developed for decompression stop diving at a high risk diving work site
  • A specific plan for jellyfish sting first aid might be developed where this risk exists.

Further advice on developing emergency plans can be obtained from:

Persons conducting diving and snorkelling should review their emergency plans regularly. View the emergency plans for recreational diving and snorkelling.

To assist in making sure workers are familiar with emergency plans, a system of training should be developed and implemented. The training should include:

  • induction training for new employees on all emergency procedures
  • ongoing training, such as periodic emergency drills held on a monthly rotational basis.

The nature of diving and snorkelling emergencies lends themselves to practical as well as theoretical drills. Appropriate records should be made of training that includes the date, the training undertaken, the trainer and trainee's names.

Below is advice to assist in developing emergency plans.

All plans

  • Plans should take into account the range of operational variables associated with a particular business. These may include:
    • activity type
    • worker numbers and competence
    • equipment available
    • environmental variables.
  • Plans should give specific directions to follow whilst allowing flexibility to address operational variables.
  • Plans should be developed through consultation with relevant workers, other associated businesses and emergency service providers.
  • Plans and other procedural documents should detail specific duties, worker competencies, equipment required and procedures to be followed.
  • Practical testing of plans will assist in determining whether plans are efficient and effective.
  • Emergency plans should be reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to be effective and efficient. Internal and external consultation will assist in this process.

First aid plan

Note: Remember, lack of oxygen for as little as three minutes can lead to permanent brain damage.

  • Have a first aid kit available at the dive site. Check that it is stocked with necessary equipment to treat injuries that may occur and can cater for the number of divers present. The contents of the first aid kit may vary depending on the risks associated with the diving activity (e.g. where there is a risk from jellyfish, the first aid kit should include vinegar)
  • Ensure that there are enough workers on the surface at the dive site who have current training in diving first aid, including emergency oxygen administration.
  • The configuration of the workplace, including vessel and tenders, should ensure adequate first aid can be provided.
  • Make available an oxygen system capable of providing a spontaneously breathing person with an inspired oxygen concentration of as near as possible to 100 per cent.
  • Check oxygen equipment and oxygen levels. The check must be carried out daily by a person trained to conduct the checks correctly.
  • Provide sufficient oxygen to supply the injured person, taking into account the location of the dive site and access to medical facilities.
  • Undertake an assessment to determine if an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is required (e.g. on a recreational dive vessel with older clients). If an AED is used, it should be operated by trained persons and properly maintained.
  • A recompression chamber on site for some dive operations may be required (e.g. for some high risk diving work). If a recompression chamber is used, it should be operated by trained persons, properly equipped and maintained.

The First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice 2014 (PDF, 784.68 KB) provides more information.

Rescue plan

  • Procedures, equipment and personnel should be in place so an efficient and effective rescue can be undertaken to remove a person from danger and give first aid, including CPR and oxygen resuscitation if required. Remember, lack of oxygen for as little as three minutes can lead to permanent brain damage.
  • An effective communication system should be available to the rescuers as well as with emergency services.
  • Workers should have a level of fitness to safely undertake a rescue. Rescues should not be undertaken by one person unless they are physically able to undertake the rescue.
  • Adequate equipment should be immediately available to assist rescuers (e.g. rescue tenders, stretchers, lifting equipment, flotation devices and throw ropes). Workers should be trained in the equipment's use.
  • The plan should specify how the transfer of an injured person will occur, from water to vessel or land, vessel to vessel, or onboard vessel.
  • The rescue procedures should not cause excessive delay in the provision of first aid.

Evacuation plan

  • The evacuation plan should specify how communication is to be maintained with any emergency services.
  • The plan should ensure the effective and timely transfer of an injured person from the activity site to emergency or other medical services, and the maintenance of first aid. Special consideration should be given to the handling of persons suffering decompression illness and barotrauma.

Consideration should be given to the safety of any persons, vessels and aircraft used in an evacuation.

Missing persons plan

  • The plan should specify the triggers used to identify a missing person situation (Note: accurate information recorded on a dive safety log, which is monitored by a dive supervisor during diving, will assist in identifying missing diver situations).
  • The plan should list initial actions undertaken when a missing person situation is suspected and subsequent actions if it is confirmed.
  • Prompt recall and headcount procedures may assist in clarifying the situation and will allow persons at the site to be questioned regarding any sightings of the missing person/s.
  • The plan should include fixing a datum point for searches at the last known location of the missing person/s.
  • The plan should include a timeframe for notifying the emergency services. This timeframe should reflect the isolation of the site, response times, and the time of day.
  • A record should be made of all actions undertaken.
  • Many missing person situations are associated with currents. The timely deployment of a clearly visible marker buoy, configured to drift with any current and deployed at the datum point, may assist with subsequent searches.

Further information is available about counting for divers and snorkellers, dive safety logs and equipment to minimise the risk of divers going missing.

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions – a case study about managing the quick recovery of drifting divers.

Last updated
05 December 2016