NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

HSE plans safety clampdown on Orkney scallop boats

Scallop diver
Image caption The inspectors say their priority is to keep the diving safe, for all concerned

Safety standards on some scallop dive boats in Orkney are unacceptably low, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

Inspectors have now promised announced and unannounced visits over the coming months.

They will look at crewing levels, risk assessment and emergency plans, and the maintenance of equipment.

It follows high-profile incidents, including the case of Ivan Doychev who was missing at sea for 11 hours.

He had been working from a dive boat in the Pentland Firth, and was rescued on 4 May after a major search operation.

HSE lead inspector for commercial shellfish diving, Aberdeen-based Alan Keith, told BBC Radio Orkney: "We regard this as a high-hazard industry. It's a dangerous job to do.

"And historically we've found that people who have been found guilty of breaches of the Diving at Work Regulations have had custodial sentences, They've been fined thousands of pounds.

"Which just shows how seriously we, and the courts, take such breaches."

Image copyright Thinkstock

His colleague, Alister Wallbank, said it wasn't just an issue for Orkney.

"There's an awful lot of shellfish diving takes place in other parts of the UK, particularly the west coast of Scotland.

"And we will be focussing attention on other areas as well, so we're not picking on Orkney.

"As time moves on, we will try and get the broader message out to shellfish diving operations taking place throughout the rest of the United Kingdom."

Alan Keith said: "We are not trying to stop anybody diving and earning a living. Our main priority is to keep the diving safe, for all concerned."

He said the minimum team size for any scallop diving should be three - a supervisor, a working diver, and a stand-by diver who was ready to get into the water immediately to assist if the diver in the water needed help.

But Alister Wallbank, who worked as a commercial diver in Orkney for 23 years before joining the HSE, accepted that standard was not always observed.

"Some teams of divers generally have higher standards than others", he said, before admitting that he had seen "fairly lax" diving operations taking place.

And he accepted that incidents in which things appeared to have gone wrong will inevitably put the industry under scrutiny.

Image copyright RNLI
Image caption Diver Ivan Doychev was rescued after 11 hours in the sea

"I think, historically, there have been periods of complacency.. and it often takes incidents, like the ones we've seen in recent months and recent years, to bring home the realities of just how potentially dangerous diving operations can be if they aren't planned and conducted and managed in a safe way."

Now, Alan Keith says inspectors plan to make sure safety standards are upheld.

"We intend to spend a considerable amount of time in Orkney, in the near future, to make sure that the standards are adhered to and the legislation is adhered to."

He also pointed out that safety is not just the responsibility of skippers and dive teams.

"There's also a bit of responsibility on those who have control over any diving project - potentially shellfish buyers, for example.

"They have responsibility to make sure that the regulations are complied with by the divers that they are employing."

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