Divers of all ages were encouraged to stay healthy and to keep diving at a talk given by Divers Alert Network (DAN) recently. *iStock photo
Divers of all ages were encouraged to stay healthy and to keep diving at a talk given by Divers Alert Network (DAN) recently. *iStock photo

FRIDAY, AUGUST 5: The common misconception that diving accidents and fatalities predominantly affect older divers or novices, at deeper depths, was corrected at a talk by Divers Alert Network (DAN) in Bermuda.

DAN president Dan Orr and CEO and chief medical officer Dr Nicholas Bird dispelled some of the myths about diving accidents and fatalities at a presentation at Triangle Diving.

Mr Orr said young and experienced divers can also get themselves into difficulties. The majority of incidents also take place at shallower depths.

DAN offers medical assistance to divers but also researches diving incidents, with the aim of improving diver safety.

The organization publishes an annual review of fatalities and incidents in North America, collating witness accounts, media, Internet and forensic pathology reports.

It also undertakes its own research, such as sending out interns to collect diving profiles from  liveaboards, charter and shore dives.

“We are striving to make every dive accident and injury-free,” said Mr Orr.

A DAN review of 947 recreational diver fatalities between 1992 and 2003 found 35 per cent of deaths were divers with more than 10 years’ certification.

“It makes no difference how many years you’ve been certified,” Mr Orr said. He also discounted age being a major factor.

“Age is only a number,” he said.

“Just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean you have to stop diving. There’s no reason why you have to stop diving if you’re in good health.”

He also dispelled the perception that the deeper you go, the more likely you are to get into trouble.

“The vast majority of deaths are shallower than 60 feet (20 metres), the water only has to be over your head,” he said.

Mr Orr said on average, there are 80-100 diving fatalities reported each year by DAN members, who number 240,000 across the Caribbean and Americas. This was a ‘small’ fatality rate compared with road accidents and other incidents.

“Diving really is a very safe sport,” said Mr Orr.

In comparison, he said on average there are 150 people killed by falling coconuts every year and 850 electrocuted by toasters.

Of the 947 diving deaths studied 88 per cent took place on the first day of the victim’s dive trip.

Further, 50 per cent of divers were aged 40-59, 21 per cent had cardiac complications, 20 per cent were subject to entrapment, and 15 per cent had equipment problems.

Among those who died, 41 per cent ran out of breathing gas (air).

Mr Orr said: “That’s 400 people who could be alivetoday if they had managed their breathing gas.”

In 70 per cent of cases, the cause of death was drowning.

Mr Orr warned divers to always monitor their air and to not push their limits.

“Don’t push the edges of your personal safety envelope,” he said. “Don’t violate your own rules. When somebody violates their own rules, somebody pays the consequences.”

Divers should always dive within the scope of their training, skills, experience and certification.

Buddy checks prior to the dive and checking correct configuration of equipment was also essential. Mr Orr said many deaths are caused by regulators being “upside down and backwards”, tanks falling out of their BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) harness and people not releasing their weight belts.

He also warned divers to resist peer pressure and to not be afraid of aborting a dive if they felt uncomfortable.

“Peer pressure can be deadly. It’s okay to say ‘No’,” he said. “When in doubt, stay out.”

He added: “I’ve gone on some dive boats but decided, ‘Not today’, because I didn’t feel it was right for me to dive at that time.

“It’s okay to do that rather than putting yourself or your buddy at risk.Remember, you can call a dive off at any time, for any reason.”

Even though much of Bermuda’s recreational diving is shallow, Mr Orr said divers should ensure they have “recent familiarity with all the critical diving skills”.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “If it’s been a while since they’ve been diving, there’s nothing wrong in a diver seeking advice or assistance and taking a refresher course.

“Bermuda is a fantastic place to dive so stay safe and seek assistance when needed.”

Dr Bird said there are 2.3 million certified divers in North America, 1,000 of whom are treated every year for Decompression Illness (DCI) — the ‘bends’. Of these, there are about 85 fatalities.

He said: “If you have symptoms, the best thing you can do is call us and say you are injured.

“Membership is not required to call DAN. We are here to treat divers.”

By calling the Emergency Hotline, divers can speak to a qualified dive medic who will advise them what to do next.

The organization also has a Medical Information Line, and offers insurance and travel assistance for members.