In the early 1980’s, the AAUS petitioned OSHA for self-regulation based on 20 years of consensual standards, and an accident incident rate lower than the commercial diving industry. The Scientific Diving Exemption was approved in 1983 based on four general principles that distinguish scientific from commercial diving (Butler 1996). However, in the intervening 35 years scientific diving has evolved to include advancements in diving modes (e.g., rebreathers) and research approaches (e.g., moored instrumentation packages). To assess these changes, and their potential implications for the scientific diving community, the AAUS convened a workshop of partner agencies in Denver, CO, June 25th-26th. This group included ~20 individuals representing the following agencies: AAUS, Association of Dive Program Administrators, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, National Science Foundation- US Antarctic Program, Smithsonian Institution, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, US Geological Survey, and US National Park Service.
The workshop began with an overview of the research dives conducted by each of the agencies; combined these units accounted for ~400,000 dives in 2017! The agencies then examined the Scientific Diving Exemption relative to advances in the research techniques above and beyond “the study of fish behavior, ecological surveys and benthic surveys”. Specifically, observations and surveys are a very small fraction of the research methodologies used by diving scientists today. Moreover, this narrowed view of a scientific diver overlooks dives in support of science (e.g., emplacing moored instrument packages and/or cameras to collect real-time in situ data), as well as dives related to user group education and outreach that have become crucial as broader impacts for funding agencies. Based on these discussions, there was consensus amongst the assembled agencies that our communtiy should engage OSHA in a discussion to: 1) demonstrate the evolution of scientific diving research techniques, and 2) exhibit the continued safety record of scientific diving. Ad hoc committees were formed to compile the requisite data needed to pursue this effort in the coming months.
In addition, the workshop provided an opportunity to meet with partners regarding a variety of collaborative issues. We discussed medical and training standards, with a goal of reducing disparities and furthering reciprocity, statistics collection, with a goal of enhancing database coordination and the state of international collaborations as being developed by AAUS President-elect, Derek Smith. Again, ad hoc committees were convened to further these discussions and to enhance interagency cooperation and reciprocity. Expect reports at the AAUS Annual Meeting in Lake Tahoe.
I want to thank the National Park Service for facilitating this important workshop, and all the individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to initiate this interagency dialogue. As always, we welcome your feedback and/or questions on these and any other pressing issues!
University of Mississippi