OSHA Proposes Revision to Commercial Diving Standard

Recreational diving instructors and diving guides will be allowed to use alternatives to an on-site decompression chamber under OSHA's proposed amendment to its Commercial Diving Operations standard.

"The diving industry has developed innovative diving methods and procedures that have helped prevent and treat diving accidents such as decompression sickness and embolism," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "By relieving many of the industry's employers of an unnecessary regulatory requirement, we believe our proposed revision will help them focus even more on the safety and health of their workers."

The proposed changes to the standard will allow some divers the opportunity to use nitrox breathing gas under specified conditions, thereby making a decompression chamber near the dive site unnecessary. The changes impact recreational divers who rely on self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) and dive at depths of 130 feet or less. The revision does not change requirements for commercial divers who do not regularly use SCUBA gear due to the nature of their work and the length of time they must spend underwater.

In nitrox diving, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen gases replaces compressed air as the breathing gas. The partial pressure of nitrogen (the gas that causes decompression sickness) in the gas mixture is lower than compressed air, and that lower pressure allows the diver to remain longer at specified depths without developing decompression sickness or embolism upon surfacing.

OSHA is basing its proposal on a variance granted to Florida-based Dixie Divers Inc. in 1999. That variance exempted Dixie from OSHA's decompression-chamber requirements for recreational diving instructors and diving guides, under the same conditions mentioned above. The proposal will incorporate the terms and conditions of that variance into the standard itself.

Comments on the proposed revisions must be submitted by April 10.

To submit comments by regular mail, express delivery, hand delivery or messenger service, send three copies and attachments to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-550, Room N2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. Copies can be faxed (10 pages or fewer) to OSHA's Docket Office at (202) 693-1648. The docket number must be included with the comments. Finally, comments may be submitted electronically through the Internet at ecomments.osha.gov.

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