A History of Exemption

In 1975, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, supported by the AFL-CIO, petitioned the Federal Government urging an emergency temporary standard (ETS) be issued with respect to all professional diving operations. This temporary standard was issued on June 15, 1976, to be effective July 15, 1976. Several diving contractors challenged the EST in U. S. Court of Appeals and the ETS was withdrawn in November of 1976 and permanent standard was formulated. The permanent standard for Commercial Diving became effective October 20, 1977.

The American Academy of Underwater Sciences, organized in 1977,  submitted arguments to OSHA for an ANPR on October 15, 1979 citing self regulation and consensual standards for over 20 years, and an accident incidence rate lower than the Commercial Diving Industry. After extensive negotiation and Congressional Hearings, a final ruling was issued, effective November 28, 1982, granting a scientific exemption. Scientific diving means diving performed solely as a necessary part of a scientific activity by employees whose sole purpose for diving is to perform scientific research tasks. Scientific diving does not include tasks generally associated with commercial diving such as: rigging heavy objects underwater, inspection of pipelines, construction, demolition, cutting or welding, or the use of explosives.
Scientific diving programs allow research diving teams to operate under the exemption from OSHA commercial diving regulations. This reduces the possibility of an OSHA fine and some concern regarding civil liability. Civil suits examine whether the "standards of practice of the community" have been met. One of the primary contribution's of the AAUS to the Scientific Diving Community is the promulgation of The AAUS Standards for Scientific Diving Certification and Operation of Scientific Diving Programs. A consensual guideline for scientific diving programs, this document is currently the "Standard" of the scientific diving community. Followed by all AAUS Organizational members, these standards allow for reciprocity between institutions, and are widely used throughout the United States and in many foreign countries. Peer reviewed within the AAUS on a regular basis, they represent the consensus of the scientific diving community and state-of-the-art technologies. To date, over 6,000 copies of this document have been provided to the scientific diving community. Diving programs which conform to AAUS standards reflect the standard of practice of the U.S. scientific diving community and allow divers from different institutions to perform underwater research together. This reciprocity between programs is the product of years of experience, trust and cooperation between underwater scientists.