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Recreational diving fatality

In February 2022, a man was participating in a recreational scuba dive with a dive tour operator. Not long into the dive, the man was unresponsive and sadly died.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

In Queensland, there are a range of recreational water activities including recreational diving, snorkelling and recreational technical diving. Typically, recreational diving is done using compressed air without the need for decompression stops.

Recreational diving has several key risk areas including poor medical fitness, inexperience, inadequate skills, panic and decompression illness.

Recreational diving includes:

  • resort or non-certified diving
  • training for recreational diving qualifications
  • recreational diving conducted for certificated divers.

Recreational divers may have limited experience, particularly if they are newly qualified. Even those with significant experience often only dive on an irregular basis and may not have maintained their skills or fitness levels putting themselves at greater risk.

Serious injuries and deaths relating to diving most commonly involve:

  • people with pre-existing diagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions, in particular cardiac issues
  • being overweight or obese
  • older people, predominantly men
  • inexperienced divers of all ages and gender.

Dive and snorkel business/organisations must ensure they are prepared to respond to an emergency. This includes supervising personnel, as well as having equipment and systems in place to:

  • recognise relevant hazards
  • recognise divers in difficulty
  • perform a rescue
  • provide first aid, including CPR, defibrillation and oxygen resuscitation.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Dive and snorkel tour operators must do management risk.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

The Recreational Diving, Recreational Technical Diving and Snorkelling Code of Practice 2018 (PDF, 0.61 MB) (the Code) provides practical guidance on how to comply with health and safety duties when providing recreational water activities, in particular recreational diving, recreational technical diving and snorkelling.

The code outlines some control measures which can be used to manage risks related to recreational diving, recreational technical diving and snorkelling.

Dive and snorkel tour operators must:

  • manage risk at their own workplace to ensure the control measures chosen are suitable for the workplace and the tasks and activities being undertaken
  • ensure all diving/snorkelling is subject to coordination by a diving/snorkelling supervisor or another person who has been appointed to do that.

Diving/snorkelling procedures should be documented along with the responsibilities of lookouts, diving/snorkelling supervisor, dive instructors and other workers with respect to health and safety. It is important responsibilities are clearly allocated and everyone is aware of the diving/snorkelling procedures.

In situations like this incident, dive tour operators should consider the following to ensure safety:

  • increase the number of dedicated lookouts and in-water guides
  • enhance lookout scanning techniques by rotating duties and ensuring lookouts can focus on supervision without distractions. Lookouts should:
    • observe divers when they are entering and exiting the water or are on the surface
    • have access to binoculars and polarised sunglasses so visibility across and into the water can be improved
    • continually monitor diver positions, look for hazards or changes which may lead to problems, and identify issues so the dive operation can be adjusted as required (for example, tides, currents, marine animals, people skylarking, fatigue)
    • wear a brightly coloured shirt, wet suit or other identifying clothing or equipment so they can be easily recognised by divers
    • be part of a communication system which is relevant to the site and which allows for necessary communication with people diving and other key personnel so that effective and efficient transfer of information can occur (a communication system may include a loud hailer, two-way radios, whistles or signalling, even just verbal communication).
  • assess and identify 'at risk' divers (age, health, swimming ability) and provide them with additional supervision
    • An appointed dive supervisor should manage the diving operation and remain at the surface of the dive site while diving is taking place. The dive superv isor should have appropriate experience for the area supervised.
  • ensure there are guides or interpreters available at the diving sites to help with advice and queries
  • prepare and distribute translated information on diving and snorkel safety (WHSQ has translated advice for divers and snorkellers in 15 languages including both simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese)
  • review and rehearse emergency procedures including rescue and first aid
    • persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) should have written emergency plans readily available for all workers. Workers should be trained so that they are familiar with these plans. Plans should be developed for the following emergency situations:
      • first aid
      • rescue
      • evacuation
      • missing persons.

In many cases, a combination of control measures will be required to minimise the risk to health and safety.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: