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RADHICA DE SILVA

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As the horrific first-hand account of diving tragedy survivor Christopher Boodram was made public for the first time yesterday, commercial divers vowed to work assiduously for the development of new diving standards that will force companies to comply with international safety standards.

Commercial diving instructor Dr Glenn Cheddie said the Commercial Diving Association has been formed and is being registered in the wake of the deaths of four LMCS Limited divers who were working on a pipeline at Paria Fuel on February 25. He said this association will host a Zoom meeting later this week to address the exploitation of divers and to expose 12 companies that have been flouting international best practices and international diving standards.

Reviewing Boodram’s account of the February 25 incident at Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre offshore facility, where divers Fyzal Kurban, Yusuf Henry, Kazim Ali Jr and Rishi Nagassar were killed when they were sucked into a 30-inch pipeline while working on it, Cheddie said Boodram admitted in the interview that he only had PADI certification.

“PADI certification is for recreational divers. He, therefore, confirmed he was not commercial-certified. He confirmed that he was working as a commercial diver for 12 years – this shows that contractors and clients never did a proper risk assessment in checking his commercial diver certification,” Cheddie said.

He added, “Boodram confirmed that for 10 years he was working for LMCS. Ten years confirmed that LMCS was not following any commercial standards. If they had followed standards, Christopher would not be diving with a PADI certification.”

Cheddie said the tragedy could have been avoided.

“My heart goes out for this young man and the other divers. It was like reading a horror story that was preventable,” he said.

He also questioned why T&T is still relying on 1997 diving standards.

“The world has moved on and if companies are relying on this standard, then that is the reason why we are killing our divers,” he said.

“We began updating the standard and it was stopped. It is not ongoing. Since 2018, the persons named on the draft have not been invited to any meetings.”

Responding to a statement from the T&T Bureau of Standards that it was committed to the development of diving standards, Cheddie said it was regrettable that no checks were being done to regulate those companies which have been using scuba divers to execute commercial diving projects. The TTBS has already said its mandate does not include audits and assessments of diving companies. Assessing workplace safety falls under the ambit of the OSHA.

Cheddie said most divers work for $1,500 to $2,500 per day, noting that companies were supposed to provide proper equipment, conduct risk assessments, update medicals and supervision of diving operations.

As a retired Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI) supervisor and a retired offshore supervisor/instructor with the Certified International Marine Contractors Association and Divers Certified Board of Canada, Cheddie said page 8 of the ADCI notes: “Under Welding and Burning: Underwater welding and burning should be performed only by qualified personnel with prior training in these operations and should only be performed only with surface supply equipment with communication.”

He said if the four divers were wearing the helmets with surface air supply and were being sucked into the pipe, all of them would have been held above the surface with tender, umbilical and video lines.

On Saturday, TTBS Standardization Division manager Nadita Ramachala and executive director Rodney Ramnath told Guardian Media the revision of existing diving standards, including the commercial diving standards, remain a top priority for them. Ramachala noted that the TTBS is in favour of companies using national and international standards to manage risks and improve health and safety practices, but explained that these standards were voluntary.

“They do not have the force of law, that is they are not mandatory documents but provide guidance to industry stakeholders. The existing national standards are still current and can be used by organisations as necessary. They are being reviewed against other international standards for commercial diving operations,” she said.

In his interview published by the Express newspaper, Boodram recounted how he and other divers got their mobilisation permits and changed into their wetsuits before waiting to get their work permits issued. He noted that these work permits are issued by Paria and outlined the tasks and hazards of the job, as well as the permission to do it. He said there was also a “toolbox” discussion— a verbal briefing of the risks and safety. The scope of the job, he said, was to go into the hyperbaric chamber and do the maintenance work.

Paria, OSHA, police and contractor LMCS have started separate investigations into the accident while a Commission of Enquiry is expected to be held into the tragedy.