Wednesday, June 11, 2014

the 'S' word : Standards

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael Lombardi Standards.

We all hate to love them, and love to hate them; 'standards' are the cookie cutter codes of practice that everyone follows in some form or fashion - be it standards by which we educate, standards by which we are obliged to meet for occupational health and safety, or even standards of care offered by a medical professional.

Not to be confused with actual laws, standards are generally a community consensus of practices or beliefs that set the precedent for codes of conduct. In cases where the precedent is pursued as law, then often times it becomes just that.

In the diving lore, scientific diving in particular, standards are often a hotly debated topic, and with good reason. Thirty years ago the community set a precedent that diving in support of research or scientific tasks was exempt from the United States' Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Code of Federal Regulations that pertain to commercial diving, or diving for 'work'. While that seems like a lifetime ago, in the legal world that is recent history, and in the diving world, well, we're still wearing diapers as far as I'm concerned.

Why the fight?

Commercial diving, by convention, arguably includes more demanding modes of diving that are potentially subject to greater risk than the dives typically made by diving scientists. Scientists therefore argued that they should not be required to meet the various heavy requirements on the diving operation, nor should their employer/institutions be subject to the workplace regulations imposed on commercial diving. With that comes high insurance premiums for both liability and worker's compensation insurances, and an exponentially more complex system of management.

By contrast, the scientists said, "let's make this easy". They set a precedent for safety, argued the case to the federal government, and so it was set into law that 'scientific diving' was no longer 'commercial diving'.

The catch - in doing that, a set of 'standards' were put in place, largely stemming from early work at Scripps. These standards defined the minimum scope of training, proficiency, and operational practices that a scientific diver must meet in order to claim that he/she is meeting the exemption for scientific diving. Today, the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) is the organization that brings this community together to self police and regulate these standards of practice, and work cooperatively to afford continued benefits for the scientific diving community.

The beauty of the entire system, as I have viewed it, is that the science of diving itself is left with an open slate, where scientific divers may embrace what's new and forward looking in order to give their science a leading and competitive edge. This does not mean rules and regulations can be arbitrarily created, rather the system provides for reviewing new standards, even at the level of the individual self-regulating institution, for sake of making meaningful gains in the science of diving. Expert level review falls on the responsibility of the Diving Control Board, thus a committee based review provides the approach to expand upon the minimum standards accepted by the institution.

It all comes back to the founding principles of the AAUS, which are those that the community must forever uphold as its minimum standards; those which are set as law to take advantage of the exemption to OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T. Without that, the science of diving is dead (in the US at least), and the sciences that benefit from the science of diving come to rest in a watery grave, barely scratching the surface of this very Blue Planet that very desperately needs an improved human interaction to sustain life for all of us.

Standards are a matter of pride and principle, provide strength in incrementally moving forward, and are there for your protection.

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