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Open Water Diving: Great Fun But Beware

I am always taken by the risks that divers take to be able to explore areas that most of us never have the opportunity to see.  Having taken a number of diving courses I know how exhilarating it can be entering a different world, even diving off the coast of the UK, which is decidedly chillier and significantly less clear than diving in the clear blue waters of the Seychelles.For those professional divers who spend most of the time diving from offshore insulations in the North Sea and elsewhere around the world, the joy can be short lived and every dive has its potential pitfalls and perils.

Given the nature of the work in particular, any accidents at work can prove fatal.  The requirement to decompress when diving in even relatively shallow depths means that health and safety has to at all times, be in the forefront.

Bearing in mind that decompression sickness, or ‘the bends’, that most people already know about, cannot just cause an acute condition of pain around the joints lasting for a short length of time (Type 1) but can also become a Type 2 level of decompression sickness which affects the central nervous system and can even on occasions be fatal.

There are numerous Regulations that apply to professional divers.  The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 applies to dives from offshore insulations and in relation to other diving operations.  Only where these Regulations do not apply, the Merchant Shipping (Diving Safety) Regulations 2002 apply to projects within UK waters but take place from driving contractors crafts and also dives outside of UK waters if the diving projects is launched or operated from a UK ship (including diving operations relating to an offshore insulation or pipeline).  

In addition there is a Health & Safety Executive Code of Practice that applies and has done since April 1998 when the 1997 Regulations came into force and provides some practical guidance to these Regulations.

As far as pleasure dives are concerned, these claims are not without their difficulties since the above Regulations do not apply. However the Court will give consideration to ‘PADI’ qualifications and more so the rules which relate  the BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club), both of which have specific Regulations and training courses and qualifications must be obtained.  

The duty is however, also upon the Claimant to ensure that any instructors who are in charge of a pleasure dive are fully aware of issues such as pre-existing medical conditions that might affect the dive. Insofar as primary liability is concerned (i.e. who is primarily at fault) the Court will look to see to what extent those who organise the dive complied with their duty of care.

In doing so a Court is likely to apply the usual standard of care which would not be lower than the standard which participants were required to reach as between themselves. By way of example, in the case where the divers were novices or otherwise less able than skilled practitioners, the standard of care will therefore be higher given the greater the hazards associated with dives.

The greater the hazard therefore associated with the sport which the instructor was engaged in teaching, the greater the duty of care.  Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker. If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.