Diving company fined $730,000 for reckless safety breaches

A diving company that specialises in underwater tank inspections and repairs has been convicted and fined for a string of life-threatening health and safety offences.


Underwater Inspection Services Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court last week after pleading guilty to seven charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

UIS was fined $600,000 for recklessly engaging in conduct that placed workers in danger of serious injury or drowning, $70,000 for failing to provide necessary training for workers to perform their tasks safety, and $60,000 for failing to provide safe systems of work.

The court heard that on five jobs between May and August 2018 the company repeatedly placed workers in dangerous situations.

The litany of health and safety breaches included:

  • Failing to ensure workers were trained and qualified for the tasks allotted to them, including to: dive in confined spaces, use specialist equipment (including dry suits and surface supplied breathing apparatus (SSBA), and act as a dive attendant, backup diver or land-based supervisor.
  • Ill-fitting or unfamiliar equipment, such as helmets, gloves and dry suits; and inadequate communication equipment, preventing workers communicating while performing underwater tasks.
  • Failure to ensure that employees knew and understood rescue procedures and emergency plans.

The court heard one diver had to shimmy backwards to escape a culvert less than one metre in diameter on a job at Kerang in July 2018. The diver crawled into the 3.5m long irrigation culvert to inspect it but could not move when her umbilical cord became stuck on the outside. Lying in murky water with rats around her, she started to panic. The worker called for help via a communication system. No one responded, and after about 15 minutes she managed to exit the culvert herself. WorkSafe’s investigation found a backup diver on the same job was not adequately trained to undertake a rescue and was unfamiliar with their ill-fitting dry suit, mask and SSBA.

Workers told their director that they were uncomfortable with certain tasks, and in August 2018, the combined concerns of two workers prompted a call to WorkSafe.

During WorkSafe's investigation, UIS instructed its workers to lie about their experience and training.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the scope of offending was astounding given the highly specialised nature of commercial diving.

"Diving is inherently hazardous, with deadly risks such as asphyxiation and drowning, making such a cavalier approach to safety especially egregious," Dr Beer said.

"WorkSafe won't hesitate to prosecute any duty holder who displays such blatant disregard for their worker's safety."

To control risks associated with occupational diving, employers should:

  • In consultation with employees, create a diving operations manual that documents safe operational procedures and ensure it is available to all staff and contractors.
  • Provide employees with information, instruction, or supervision as is necessary to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Ensure all divers have the adequate training and qualifications under the relevant Australian Standards and are medically assessed as fit to dive before conducting any work.
  • Develop a dive plan or safe work method statement (SWMS) that incorporates a dive plan and review it if conditions and/or circumstances change during the planned diving operation.
  • Test breathing gas quality according to the relevant Australian Standard and ensure compression (recompression) chamber support is available.
  • Ensure an adequate number of personnel are used in each diving operation and that diver emergency procedures are in place.
  • Ensure specific requirements under Australian Standards for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA), Surface Supplied Breathing Apparatus (SSBA), or Enriched Air Nitrox (EAN) diving operations are in place.
  • Report and record all accidents, incidents and near misses and ensure risk control measures are reviewed and revised where necessary.