Problem Prevention

The key to having a safe dive team is problem prevention. Problem prevention is knowing how to recognize potential problems before they arise, and stopping them from occurring. Proper training and pre-planning is number one in preventing problems. Regular equipment maintenance is primary in ensuring equipment failures do not occur. Recognizing a problem in a person or area can stop an accident before it happens. Understanding the accident sequence is understanding problem prevention.

If cool or cold outside, preparations should be made to prevent hypothermia. The dive team should have a coffee pot that runs off the vehicle generator, so team members can have hot coffee to stay warm. If your squad is a fire service team doing this will be easy, being all firetrucks can operate a 110 coffee maker. In hot weather, hyperthermia is the problem. The dive team should have a water cooler that can be kept full at all times. Instant Gatorade can be kept in the glove box of the response vehicle, for use when needed. One member of the team should be appointed as safety officer. His job is to see that all equipment is stocked in the area, in a safe manner, but more importantly he should see to it that no one has exposure problems. He can make the coffee, or check the ice water. Observing the other divers to note if they are overheating, getting sunburned or are to cold. When the exhilaration of the situation arises, people often disregard the effects of the environment on themselves. The accident sequence is expressed as the DOMINO THEORY. It is based on a theory by H.W. Heinrich, who stated that there are five elements in any accident sequence.

These Elements Are:
  • Environmental, such as cold or hot weather.

  • Human Factors such as lack of training or improper attitude.

  • Unsafe Acts or Conditions such as not filling tanks, unsafe equipment.

  • The Accident.

  • The Resulting Injury.

When an accident starts to befall it is analogous to falling dominos. When one starts to fall, it hits another which falls into another, until completion. However, when one is removed, the sequence stops. In order for an accident to occur, an unsafe act must be committed, or an unsafe condition must exist. This is usually caused by human error. Problem prevention is preventing accidents from happening, thereby preventing injury to personnel. When an accident occurs it is usually an indication that someone failed to perform in a safe manner. It is not possible to prevent an accident unless their causes are recognized. They are usually the result of a definite cause, and determining it, can prevent similar accidents. Problem prevention is a system of stopping accidents, instead of correcting the situation after it befalls. Accidents have been determined to be the direct result of either an unsafe mechanical or physical condition, or an unsafe personal act.

The individual rescuer must be able to deal with problems that occur to himself. When a situation occurs in the water stop all activity. Reestablish normal breathing. Stop and think. Take a logical course of action: ACT, DON'T REACT! The number one rule for any rescuer is: Always expect the unexpected.

Any diver not mentally prepared for an operation is an accident looking for a place to happen. Team members should watch for signs of apprehension. The number one sign is hesitation. A diver will make several excuses as to why he should not enter the water. He will never admit that he is frightened. When this occurs the Team Leader should allow the diver to sit out and accept his excuse, this saves face. Never humiliate, or coax a diver into the water. When you feel the diver is faking sick for whatever reason, remember the fear to the diver is real. Never force an issue at the dive site.

Training must include practice and more practice of emergency procedures. It must include BCD control, airway control, cramp removal, air depletion situations, vomiting underwater, and anything else the team wants to practice.

Whenever an unsafe condition exist, or an unsafe act is performed, an accident can take place. The old saying: ''That's an accident looking for a place to happen,'' comes from someone recognizing a potentially dangerous situation. If rectified it wont befall. The domino theory of accidents relates to every walk of life. In the water environment accidents can be lethal. As rescue personnel we should correct situations by removing the domino, preventing the accident. We must be able to identify the factors that contribute to an accident, and then solve the problem.

We all should be able to spot, and correct unsafe situations and acts by people on the shore, or in boats. What we will discuss is typical problems seen in divers and possible solutions.

Accidents occur in six problem areas:
  • Pre-Dive Problems

  • Surface Problems

  • Descent Problems

  • Problems During the Dive

  • Ascent Problems

  • Post Dive Problems

By watching for conditions in these areas and correcting them, we will be practicing problem prevention. All Rescue Divers, Divemasters, Instructors, all the way down to the novice Open Water Diver should be able to spot and correct unsafe situations. When we instill in all divers from the first day of class problem prevention, we will be able to lower accidents and injury or property loss.

Pre-dive problems are situations occurring before a dive. They consist of everything from unloading equipment, to entering the water. The first condition to watch for is apprehension or delaying by the diver. Try to find the cause. Check to see if any divers have colds or appear sick. Forbid these people from diving. Look for equipment problems before the diver enters the water. Is the diver weighted correctly? Are the weights correctly adjusted. If they are to one side the diver will lean to that direction. Be sure the tank and BC are properly adjusted. Watch for the diver who puts on his wet suit or dry suit way before the dive. This can lead to overheating and premature exhaustion.

Surface problems occur as divers are surface swimming to a marker, or after a dive, when swimming to shore, or a boat. The most common problem seen is fighting to stay afloat, be sure air is in the BC. Watch for the diver who cannot continue due to exhaustion. For these people offer to carry whatever they are carrying. Be sure they have air in their BC. In surf areas or when a diver is fighting to take a breath, be sure they are using their snorkel.

Minor technique problems lead to difficulties such as: mask on forehead, which becomes a problem when it is knocked off, as in surf or rough water, or not using a snorkel when needed.

The most common descent problem is failure to equalize. When this occurs to you or your buddy, try descending more slowly. If still unable to descend, return to the shore or boat with your buddy. Do not let your buddy dive alone. When diving from shore try descending along the bottom contour instead of dropping straight down. Gentle slopes are easer on the ears than descent/ascent lines. Watch for the diver who sinks out of control, they are usually over weighted. Sometimes a diver cannot descend because he still has air in his BC.

On the bottom divers may drag the bottom decreasing visibility. They fail to monitor their gauges, or try to skip breathe. One of the biggest problems is being unable to control buoyancy, they float up, release air, sink, then add air and start the circle over again. Buddy separation can occur anytime. To prevent problems always select a buddy whom you feel comfortable with. If separated go to the surface, this should be restated to each other, and every diver before every dive. Everyone in a diving operation should be responsible for only one other diver. The odd man out should go with the most experienced dive team member. In a three man team diver one should watch diver two, who watches diver three, this still places each diver responsible for only one other diver. Try to stay no more than an arms length apart. Try to avoid the ''I'll lead you follow'' dive plan. Always plan your dive, and dive your plan.

Accidents occur because of situations not being corrected. We spend a lot of time discussing what to do when a situation arises but not enough on how to prevent it. Fire departments spend several thousand dollars every year for fire prevention, its time the dive community started accident prevention programs. As the professional Water Rescue Team, you should volunteer your expertise, to give classes in preventing water related accidents. Not only is this good public relations, but it also may save a life. Go to the area dive stores, and dive clubs and offer accident prevention workshops. Schools and YMCAs are also good locations for seminars.

The time to prevent an accident is before it happens, SCUBA Instructors should place prevention high on their list of need to know for students. Teach diving awareness.



P.O. Box 590474, Houston, Texas 77259-0474

Site Made & Maintained by:


Copyright 2006 National Association of Rescue Divers ©