Emergency Action Plans: When Things Go Wrong

Scuba experiences are not without risk, and accidents are always possible. But with the right plans in place, incidents can be managed, and harm can be limited. Emergency action plans (EAPs) are essential risk mitigation tools for dive operators and dive professionals to limit liability and ensure the safety of divers, staff and the public.

Each aspect of a dive operation has its unique risks. Understanding what these risks are and how various accidents should be managed is a key element of safe operations. Whether in the dive center or at a dive site, different situations, activities and locations will require different emergency action plans. Customizing your plans for each situation is crucial for ensuring customer and employee safety.

Assess Your Dive Center

Dive centers may have any or all of the following areas: retail shop, classroom, service workshop, gear rental storage area and cylinder filling station. Each has its own unique list of emergencies that may include medical emergencies, pressurized equipment explosions, electrocution and even aggressive behavior. Each requires its own action plan, emergency equipment, outside assistance services and, most importantly, specific training to know how to react appropriately.

Consider sitting down with staff and working together to identify potential risks. From this list, start brainstorming possible plans based upon what resources are available and what is realistic to achieve.

Assess Your Dive Sites

You may use a pool or confined-water location for training or use dive boats or other shore-based means to access your dive sites. Weather and sea conditions vary dramatically, as do remoteness, exposure to diving emergencies and access to emergency assistance. These are all factors to consider when assessing risks and creating plans. Being aware of and understanding the accidents and incidents that may occur are essential aspects of your preparation for safety.

Assess Your Vehicles

Several factors need to be considered when assessing vehicles used for transporting divers. Beyond licensing and equipment requirements, you are responsible for planning for and carrying out emergency procedures that are not always top of mind. In some cases, the emergency action plan is going to include steps that require careful planning, training and equipment.

Vehicle road accidents, fires, death onboard your vessel, and in some areas even hijacking are emergencies we generally would prefer not to think about — but it is important to consider and develop plans for risks such as these.

Assess Your Emergency Action Training — Regularly!

Compiling and implementing emergency action plans require very specific training to ensure that you will be able to respond appropriately during times of potential chaos and that assistance numbers and emergency equipment will help you manage. Keep your emergency plans at the forefront of your mind as a dive operator. This means you should not simply file your emergency action plan for when you might need it; rather, you should perform walk-throughs to review the effectiveness of the plan and then do realistic drills at least once a year to ensure you are able to execute all the necessary emergency actions effectively.

Download DAN’s HIRA Guide, Free of Charge

Before you begin your risk assessment, download the DAN Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Guide. This comprehensive guide provides detailed explanations of the most common risks dive businesses face and offers customizable templates you can use to create your own emergency action plans. DAN is pleased to offer the digital edition of this guide to all dive businesses at no cost.

Non-Boat Diver Operations

Element Risks Risk Level Recommendations
EAPs Emergency situations often unfold rapidly and rarely allow those on site to evaluate the situation and decide on a suitable response.
The establish of emergency action plans (EAPs) covering likely exigencies can mitigate the risks involved.

The mere existence of EAPs is not sufficient however. EAPs t hat are drafted in theory but never practiced may be ineffective, due to issues such as the complexity of a given emergency, a lack of access to the site, unfeasible or restricted escape routes, inadequate or unfamiliar equipment, unsuitable communications devices or methods, inadequate training and/or inappropriate reactions due to staff being under pressure.

Lack of training and lack of consistency in carrying out EAPs can expose a dive operator to legal liability.
5 Dive operators should establish EAPs that are based on a site risk assessment, the prevailing conditions, the dive plan and any other variable factors; such as plans should be documented and tested by all dive professionals on the staff.

Such plans should address at least the following situations:

– Aggressive behavior (by customers, staff or others)
– Bad weather and/or effects of exposure;
– Injured divers (in-water or onshore);
– Decompression illness (DCI);
– Marine life injuries;
– Heart attack and other health-related issues;
– Lost diver;
Transfer of an injured diver or staff member to the nearest emergency service;
– Motor vehicle or other transport-related accidents; and
– Death of a diver or support-crew member, including retrieval of body
A sample emergency action plan from the DAN Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment Guide.