14 September 2008

Local Firm Raises Marina HSE Failures Concern

Two Meridian Divers contacted me today to say that a local Newhaven dive company has published its fears that there have been breaches of the HSE requirements at Brighton Marina. Any debate on diving safety is a healthy one.

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 the Secretary of State approved the Code of Practice entitled "Recreational Diving Projects" . The Code , known as the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) is an HSC publication and is itslef made under the Diving at Work Regulations 1997.

The ACOP applies to 'diving at work' . The application of that term has always been one that has been argued by dive businesses, but broadly speaking if you are involved in a diving project where someone is getting paid to provide dive training it will apply to you. So being involved in a dive project and going diving with your buddy are two distinct things.

Where there is an 'at work' situation , there has to be a dive contractor , a dive supervisor a diving project plan & risk assessment and more besides. The dive contractor is responsible for all of that. The risk assessment would need to take account of the type of student divers involved.

The company fears that HSE regulations are being breached in Brighton Marina by their own members in as much that they aren't following a "stipulation" that the Marina entrance be buoyed-off. Neither the Regulations nor the ACOP refers to Brighton Marina or indeed buoying but a risk assessment produced by a Dive Contractor may use buoying as a control measure. This is undoubtedly, in the case of Brighton Marina a good idea. But then I would say that because I have previously written risk assessments for Dive Contractors using Brighton Marina that have said exactly that. But such risk assessements were written for 'at work' situations in a place where 'first-time' open water divers were often in the Marina. That said it IS a good idea to buoy-off a dive area in Brighton Marina whether 'at work' or not at work.

Having been in Brighton Marina only yesterday I very much support the idea of buoying-off an area (whilst there is always a practical problem of divers not being able to see the buoys from under the water, it at least keeps the rare boat movement away from the entry & exit points). Once upon a time there were such buoys across the area used by divers (with permission) in Brighton Marina. I haven't seen them there for a very long time.

So WHO should provide the buoys ? That's a good question - but not a new one! The HSE publication "Managing health & safety at Recreational Dive Sites" (how many have read that?) gives guidance primarily to site owners / operators. The Local Authority (Brighton & Hove City Council ) is the enforcing authority for managed dive sites. The guidance puts lots of responsibilities on owners / operators including providing information on hazards , it specifically covers shared use sites (ie divers & boats!) It's a 47 page document so I won't try to summarise it here. But the question is 'who is responsible'? for the safety of the site itself? Is it the Brighton Marina Management or the dive centres that 'operate' diving from there? Whose insurance covers the safety divers using the site itself - after all (as we did yesterday) divers have to pay to use the site . As paying customers we should know who is taking care of the safety issues. If you visit Stoney Cove it's very clear who manages safety there , is it so clear at Brighton Marina?

Breaches of Healthy & Safety law are a serious business they can result in fines, imprisonment or both.

The question of 'permission' to use Brighton Marina has also been highlighted. There is a clear sign at the Marina saying "Diving by permission only". Who gives this permission it doesn't say. It seems that several dive businesses use this shallow water for providing recreational diving instruction whist 'at work'. At one time only a single dive business used it, but, as was predicted on this blog , it is now used by other buisnesses. Do each of the businesses have the authority to give permission? I am sure the business we paid for the priviledge of using the water had that authority. If a business gives permission in exchange for money I think we get a clearer picture of who is responsible for the site.

At the very least I would hope that the various commercial concerns involved in diving at the Marina, ie the Marina itself and the several businesses with a fintip-in-the-water are clear on their joint responsibilities. The local firm's concern seems to suggest that all are not as clued-up as you might hope for. One thing I learnt when I completed my HSE Approved Diving Contractors Course is that there is a lot to think about and that is without even getting in to the realms of PADI Standards which of course are not law. PADI standards say there should be a minimum of 6meters water for an open water dive but you won't find that in written in anything by HSE.

A healthy debate indeed, one that should benefit all divers and one fully supported by Meridian Divers.


matt said...

i was there today and the diving area was bouyed off

Chris-P said...

Excellent Matt, as per my posting a healthy debate leading to increased safety for divers. A step in the right direction (one I put in risk assessment some years ago) so I am very pleased that my advice has now been put into practice. It's a slow process but standards are improving. Thanks for the info. If the bouys had been in place earlier others would not have believed there to be breaches of HSE. Whoever placed the buoys must presumably be responsible for he safety of the site even when others are using it. It's good to establish who is responsible.

Steve L said...

Having experienced a diving course at Brighton marina (dry suit spec) I would question the suitabily of a training site for open water diving that has a max depth of 4-5 metres but only in a small round hole next to a big mound of silt. I understand this is the easy option for local dive centres but maybe they should think more about the quality level of the training they provide at this site. I found it okay for a puddle dive to test kit but not sure it really gives people the experience you would expect to have to then go on to open water diving. I even hear rescue courses are being run there! I asumed that the reason this site was being used for training was it's safety but now that doesn't seem to be the case either. I would certainly question paying for another course that was conducted at the marina.

Chris-P said...

Hi Steve, I am a hard marker but not THAT hard! Brighton Marina has it's limits. It IS shallow but when the water level is at it's best you can get 6m . It was over six metres today. I am very much for encouraging high standards in dive safety and am pleased that several standards have improved - I think as a direct result. There is more to be done. The Marina has a lot of potential benefits for dive operators and divers but has to be out into context. Not so much 'what you've got' but how you use it! My buddy tested out his new wet suit there yesterday and if you can handle buoyancy in three to five or so meters you can probably handle it anywhere! Now the Marina has the buoys it's needed for some years its a bonus. Looks as though someone has at last got round to fixing it. Better late than never.