Appeared in DIVER July 2007

Plan like a pro
Entering the water from steps in the harbour wall. Prudent risk management is to check that they will still be accessible when the tide drops.

Health & safety guidelines require those who dive for a living to take risk assessment seriously. We can all benefit from adopting the professional divers mindset, says John Liddiard - just think risk

Risk assessment is a dive-planning tool used by professional divers all the time. When diving for money or reward, full- or part-time, the dive plan has to include an assessment of risk. When you train with a professional instructor or dive with a professional guide, they should brief you on their risk assessment.
But a risk assessment is more than just a legal requirement - its a valuable tool for improving safety. If a pro instructor can improve safety by managing risk, so can an amateur instructor teaching within a club. If a pro guide can improve safety by managing risk, so can a club trip organiser, dive marshal or expedition leader.
Both BSAC and the SAA are encouraging all divers to think risk, especially where members of the public outside a club are concerned - for example, where a club conducts an open try-dive.
Diving is an adventure sport, and both training and experience help us to manage the risks and control them to an acceptable level.
We already do risk management each time we go diving, though we dont usually think about it that way. We think of it as dive-planning, gas-planning, studying the tides, dive-marshalling and all that.

Brain lubrication
To get into the right frame of mind, lets lubricate our brains with an unstructured dip into some diving risks.
Theres a current over the wreck. Better work out when slack water is and dive then. Or: Be careful getting in, the rocks are slippery.
Then there are the less-obvious risks, often the sort that anticipate an event in the future, and its consequences: If we jump in here, will we still be able to get out when the tide has dropped Or: Do I have enough weight to stay on a deco stop when my gas is nearly all gone
The more insidious type of risk becomes significant only when something else goes wrong. If one of the divers is injured, how will we get them out of the water If my buddy has a regulator failure, will I have enough gas to get us both back to the surface If my dive computer fails, how will I know how much deco to do
Welcome to the Incident Pit. Something goes wrong that causes or allows another problem to occur, and before we realise it the whole thing escalates to the point of becoming unmanageable.
The standards set by our diving organisations are designed to manage risk, but standards dont tell us what the risks were and how the answers were reached. By going back to first principles, we can understand where the gaps are and what to do about them.

How not to do it
Andy is leading a club expedition and his DO asks for a risk assessment. He takes the BSAC Safe Diving booklet and works backwards to invent a risk that justifies each of the recommendations made.
It satisfies the paperwork, but does it offer any real benefits Andy already follows the standards, so the objective of his risk assessment should have been to identify any measures needed that are not already covered by the standards.
Bill the instructor needs to do a risk assessment under the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP). He asks his mate Chuck, who used to work for NASA as a rocket scientist, to help. Chuck does a Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) followed by a Fault Tree Analysis (FTA), with pages of tables, flowcharts and lots of probability maths.
Bill hasnt got a clue what it all means, but is happy that he has satisfied the ACOP.
To be worthwhile for divers, a risk assessment has to be simple to produce, to be readily understandable, and to genuinely improve safety rather than simply satisfy paperwork.

The bare principles
For sport diving we need only three headings. We use the heading Hazard to describe anything that could be a risk or danger and how it could affect us or anyone else.
Under Control Measures, we describe what well do about the hazard. A Notes heading will cover anything else.
Attempting to eliminate risk altogether would be absurd. In some cases a Control Measure could be to explain why we dont need to take action, or even the trivial Bear in mind and take care, but no special measures needed.
Table 1a is part of the risk assessment for a shore dive. The control measures are all things we already know as good practice.
Completely new control measures are rarely identified, and are usually tied to a specific dive site or training activity.
If this shore dive was at Martins Haven in Pembrokeshire, we would need to consider the passenger ferry to Skomer that runs from the bay. In the relevant part of the risk assessment (Table 1b), the only site-specific control measure is: Stay to east side of bay.
If the purpose of the dive is a photographic training course, we now have a new set of hazards (Table 1c).
You should now be thinking that lots of other things could happen through any task distracting a diver from basic safety procedures. When you go on to think about control measures, there is considerable duplication.
Thats a good thing. If a control measure crops up repeatedly, it shows how significant that measure is for overall safety.

Putting it all to use
As an individual or buddy team, we can use this easy way to assess risk to help plan our dives. As dive guide or club dive marshal, we can use it as an aide-memoire for dive briefings. Dont bore everyone by reciting it word by word, just pick the useful key issues.
If everyone on the boat has a twin-set, there is little point telling them why a twin-set is a good idea for a deco dive, even if it is in the risk assessment. But, again with the Lucy in mind, its worth reminding divers that long deco stops should be on the buoyline rather than on a delayed SMB so they dont drift off into dangerous currents - and mention the shoulder-shake DCI risk.
To avoid pawing backwards and forwards through a big file of risk assessments, print it all once, with one generic assessment per page, then just extract the pages relevant to a particular dive.
Printing and binding all the pages applicable to a particular dive can be especially useful for regularly used sites, like a favourite training quarry.

The living risk assessment
The trick with risk assessment is to start small and let it grow. Cover known and obvious hazards, then, in the light of experience, revise the assessment to include whatever else crops up. Keep it all organised so that you can use it again.
Serious incidents that involve rescue services and incident reports are thankfully rare, but divers regularly encounter small incidents that are forgotten about almost as soon as they are over.
Learn from these small lessons to manage future risk. If you jump in from the rocks and find out the hard way that getting out is difficult when the tide has dropped, its worth adding a new entry to your risk assessment.

The background
It all started with commercial diving, or rather, health & safety at work legislation put in place to reduce diving accidents during the offshore boom about 40 years ago.
Part of the plan for any underwater job had to include a risk assessment. Not just for offshore work, but anything involving divers at work in the UK, including scientific, archaeological and media diving, like writing and taking pictures for DIVER.
Then the business of diving schools took off, with PADI and others arriving from the USA and BSAC approving commercial schools to compete. Technical agencies offered advanced training commercially, and all this activity involved working instructors and divemasters responsible for customers exposed to the risks of an adventure sport.
In 1997 the regulations were updated so that each sector had an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP), detailing how the diving at work regulations would be applied.
So training businesses such as PADI, various technical schools, BSAC schools and self-employed diving instructors are governed by the ACOP for Recreational Diving Projects. Among other things, this dictates that every diving project should have a plan, and that part of that plan should be an assessment of risks and how they will be managed.
The legislation is managed by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

The risk bank
Much risk assessment is generic to all divers. Thats why agencies have standards. But the standards dont document risk management in a way that is risk-centric, so many of us end up duplicating the 90% of the work that is common.
We can save time by sharing our risk-assessment work with other divers, other instructors, other clubs and even other training agencies. With the power of the web, there is an opportunity for an online risk bank.
At present the Scuba Industries Trade Association documents a few risks online (, the Cave Diving Group has a generic risk assessment at, and BSAC outlines two methods of risk assessment with examples at
All use different methods that are sadly incompatible, though not irretrievably so.

Table 1a
Hazard Control Measures Notes
Divers could slip or fall on slimy rocks when entering or leaving water.
This can lead to anything from damaged equipment to minor injury, unconsciousness and drowning.
Beware of slippery rocks.
Plan path to avoid slippery rocks.
Divers help and support each other.
Regulator in place and gas on before entering water.
Inflation of BC/drysuit for positive buoyancy before entering water.
Shore cover to monitor divers entering/leaving the water in case assistance is needed.
Table 1b
Hazard Control Measures Notes
Dale Princess uses jetty on west side of bay.
Impact of hull or propeller could lead to serious injury or death.
Follow local rules.
Stay to east side of bay.
Use an SMB.
Advise boatmen of presence on site.
Listen for boat engines.
Caution when surfacing.
May dive west side of bay when ferry not operating.
Confirm with boatmen.
Table 1c
Hazard Control Measures Notes
Camera distracts attention from depth/time/gas.
May lead to problems with low air, DCI etc.
Only one camera between two divers, so buddy is not distracted.
Drill to check depth/time/gas every few pictures.
Drill to check depth/time/gas as buddies swap camera.
Conservative dive plan on training dives.
Select sites as shallow as possible compatible with photo objectives.
Divers should have comfortably enough experience for dive before attempting it with camera.
Instructor to monitor students depth/time/gas.
Martins Haven is suitably shallow as long as divers do not venture outside bay.
Site well within capability of Ocean/Open Water Diver with a few UK dives.
Table 2
Hazard Control Measures Notes
Slack water not critical for diving Lucy and we are diving at mid-tide. Long deco on delayed SMB could drift into nearby areas of strong currents. Divers to decompress on buoyline fixed to bow of wreck. Beware of shoulder-shake DCI - see next risk.
Hanging onto line for long periods of deco can increase risk of DCI in that arm. Keep both arms loose and flexible.
Use both arms, or swap regularly.
Fin gently to relieve stress on arms.
Consider using Jon-line.
Jon-line is a strap about 2m long used to clip divers to buoyline so that they can decompress hands free.
Exiting the water requires care because of the slippery rocks
One of the hazards for new photographers is letting the camera distract them from monitoring depth, time and air.
The risk analysis needs to account for how an injured diver would be recovered. What method would you plan to use on a boat fitted with a ladder
A lift platform makes recovering divers nice and easy.
A risk analysis for diving a wreck like the Lucy will include generic risks for wreck diving.
Exiting the water after a shore dive, with regulator in, BC inflated and steadying each other. All such measures reduce risk.
A diver lift platform makes recovering an injured diver easy, but watch out for fingers in the rails.