What Nigerian Commercial Divers may know and do not know

 

 

 

Diving is a thrilling experience everyone should get an opportunity to enjoy!

 

For some, diving is a recreational attraction for others it is an attractive means of lively hood especially commercial divers who sometimes earn as much as $1000 (US) per day in the North Sea. For some Nigerian commercial divers it might be different story.

 

Commercial divers are employed for different reasons including recreational diving instructors, offshore divers, military divers, police divers and scientific divers. Majority of commercial divers in Nigeria work in the rich oilfields of the Niger-delta and claim that their profession is not as lucrative or as safe as they expect. They work in a barely regulated industry; their training is not of international standard and they earn less than their foreign counterparts.

 

The diving environment is very hazardous and exposes commercial divers to different injuries. Nigeria’s commercial divers have little or no access to health insurance or skilled healthcare to render medical assistance or emergency medical response to attend to diving injuries and emergencies. Some divers are not certified medically fit to dive and stand the chance of suffering diseases caused by extreme pressures such as pulmonary (burst lung), sinus and ear barotraumas. Others include gas toxicities and envenomation from poisonous marine animals to mention a few.

 

This is not the case in South Africa. Commercial divers are the gems of the maritime industry in South-Africa. Divers are employed for offshore mining of diamonds and some engage in Abalone farming. They exist in a world with rules that protect them such as the Mining Health and Safety Act (MHSA), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and Disability act that guarantees a channel for complaint, safety for divers and compensation for injuries.

 

The South African Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Association (SAUHMA) register all Diving and Hyperbaric Physicians who certify fitness to dive, keep a registry of fitness to dive to flag shopping around of medical fitness certificates and render prompt treatment for injuries. The South African Diving Regulations of 2010 through the Diving Advisory Board- a 7member board of a person from the Department of Labour, Department of Minerals and energy, an inspector, a level IIa designated medical practitioner, a diving instructor, supervisor and contractor, ensures training standards, a****sments, registration and record keeping, Code of practice, fees payable, notification of diving operations and withdrawal of certificates. They also ensure a public inquiry into all diving fatalities bringing accountability to the system.

 

A trip to South-Africa gave a painting of life as a diver. In Capetown, at the University of Stellenbosch Baromedical Unit, one of the International Marine Contractors (IMCA) recognised schools for training in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine and a South-African Registered Hyperbaric facility, divers have access to prompt healthcare. They have two mono-place chambers and one multi-place chamber for delivering 100% oxygen/air at increased pressures for treating not only diving injuries like Decompression Sickness and Arterial Gas Embolism but also for hyperbaric treatment of Acute Thermal Burns, poor wound healing in Diabetics and Chronic Refractory Osteomyelitis for example. Dr. Jack Meintjes a worldwide authority and leading expert in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine runs the unit alongside Dr. Cecelia Roberts

 

A tour of the prestigious Professional Diving Center (PDC) in Durban revealed training in IMCA, U.K HSE and Australian ADAS standards. 80% of trained divers work overseas so divers are certified fit by a Diving Medical Specialist and handed an approved medical examination diving certificate of international standards. Diving Medical Specialists have been trained in accordance to the European Diving Technology Committee (a division of IMCA) to examine prospective candidates for conditions that prohibit diving such as Asthma, Diabetes, Hypertension and Sickle cell anaemia to mention  a few. A Dr. Imraan Khallil is one of the Diving Doctors in the school. He is also a diver like most Diving Doctors in South Africa or even all over the world. This accords them the privilege of having a good appreciation of the physics and physiology of diving.

 

The students in the school undergo a swim test in a 50m swimming pool which includes a 300m swim in 10mins, a 25m underwater swim from a stand point and other pool tests to a****s swimming capabilities. Those unable to pass are given their money back and sent home. Courses like the Class II 50m mixed diver and life support technician are well taught and practiced in the safest conditions. The South African Department of Labour and the owner of PDC Mr. Grant Jameson enforce first aid training for all students in the diving school. No exceptions. I was made to write the exam even though they knew I was a DOCTOR and would definitely pass! I aced it with a 100%

 

These standards police the industry and ensure compliance thereby helping to make diving safe, rewarding and reduce the total number of diving fatalities to 3-4 per year in South Africa. Nigerian Divers still have much to look forward to although things are shaping up. There is the Nigerian Association of Professional Divers, a voluntary association or special interest group promoting the cause of professional divers. Last year a Code of Practice for Inland, Inshore and Offshore Divers by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria was put in place. Nigeria also recently signed into a law the Disability Act and the Workmen Compensation Act of 2010 plus there are rumours of the introduction of a Diving Act after the swearing in of the recently re-elected President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

 

As a diver myself, I join my brothers in the struggle to encourage industry standards and safe practices for Diving in Nigeria. Diving can be a means of stimulating economic growth and youth empowerment but it needs adequate laws. It is imperative our diving industry possess skilled, healthy personnel and forward thinking people with the right sense of responsibility and a dedication to duty.

Dr. Adesola Osidipe is a Diving Physician from the University of Stellenbosch, an IMCA certified Class IV Diver and a member of the South African Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Association.

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