In August 2022, a member of the public died while snorkelling. Investigations show he had been snorkelling from a tour operated vessel when the lifeguard spotted he was not moving.
In September 2022, a member of the public became unresponsive and was declared deceased during a swim with the whales activity. Early investigations show she was snorkelling with a tour operator and holding onto a long rope.
Also in September 2022, a member of the public became unresponsive and was declared deceased when she collapsed and lost consciousness after snorkelling. Early investigations show she had returned to the platform while snorkelling.
These findings are not yet confirmed and investigations into the exact causes of all three incidents are continuing.
Many people visit the Great Barrier Reef and other destinations in Queensland to dive and snorkel, often for the first time. Businesses offer a range of recreational water activities including snorkelling.
Key risk areas for snorkelling include poor medical fitness, inexperience, inadequate skills and panic.
Serious injuries and deaths relating to snorkelling most commonly involve:
- people with pre-existing diagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions, in particular cardiac issues
- being overweight or obese
- older people
- inexperienced snorkellers of all ages and gender.
People conducting a recreational snorkelling business or undertaking must ensure that they are prepared to respond to an emergency situation. This must include having supervising personnel, equipment and systems in place to:
- recognise relevant hazards
- recognise snorkellers in difficulty
- undertake 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. If it is not possible to eliminate risks to health and safety, then the risks must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.
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 to persons conducting a business or undertaking on how to comply with their health and safety duties when providing recreational water activities, in particular snorkelling.
The code outlines some control measures which can be used to manage risks related to snorkelling.
The person conducting the business or undertaking must:
- undertake risk management at their own workplace to ensure the control measures chosen are suitable for the workplace and the tasks and activities being undertaken
- ensure all snorkelling is subject to coordination by a snorkelling supervisor or other person or people who have been appointed for that purpose.
Snorkelling procedures should be documented along with the responsibilities of lookouts, the snorkelling supervisor and other workers with respect to health and safety. It is important that responsibilities are clearly allocated and the snorkelling procedures to be followed are known to all parties.
In situations similar to these incidents, snorkelling tour operators, should consider the following to ensure the safety of their customers:
- Increase the number of dedicated lookouts and in-water guides.
- Enhance lookout scanning techniques by rotating duties and ensuring lookouts are able to focus on supervision without distractions. Lookouts should:
- observe snorkelers including when they are entering and exiting the water or are on the surface
- have access to binoculars and polarised sunglasses so that visibility across and into the water can be improved
- continually monitor the positions of the snorkelers, look for hazards or changes which may lead to problems and identifies problems so that the 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 the lookout can be recognised easily by snorkelers.
- be part of a communication system which is relevant to the site and which allows for necessary communication with people snorkelling and any other appropriate personnel so that effective and efficient transfer of information can occur. A communication system may include, for example, ordinary voice communication, a loud hailer, two-way radios, whistles or signalling.
The snorkel supervisor should:
- assess and identify 'at risk' (age, health, swimming ability) snorkelers and provide them with additional supervision
- advise all visitors to snorkel with flotation devices
- arrange additional guided snorkelling tours and buddy pairs
- ensure there are guides or interpreters available at the snorkelling sites to help with advice and queries
- prepare and distribute translated information on 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 that are readily available to all workers. Workers should be trained so that that they are familiar with these plans. Plans should be developed for the following emergency situations:
- first aid
- missing persons.
In many cases a combination of control measures will be required to minimise the risks to health and safety.
- Emergency plans for recreational diving and snorkelling
- Diving and snorkelling
- Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011
- Safety in Recreational Water Activities Regulation 2011
- Recreational diving, recreational technical diving and snorkelling code of practice 2018 (PDF, 0.61 MB)
- Snorkel safety - A guide for workers (PDF, 3.3 MB)
- Effective lookouts
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- First aid in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.48 MB)
- Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.49 MB)
- Surf Life Saving Queensland - Water safety handbook
- Royal Life Saving Society Australia - Inland waterways Fact Sheet
- Queensland Tourism Industry Council – Visitor Safety
Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident
For advice and support: