By Bill High, NAUI 175, PSI-PCI Instructor 1
We, as professional scuba instructors, have several obligations to those we train. Obviously, we must provide our students with the knowledge and tools to function safely in a challenging sport. We do this through what are considered time tested manuals, hands-on applications and skill assessments. Have we however done all that is reasonable to ensure our students truly understand the equipment they use? I think not.
Allow me to focus on one aspect of scuba diver training that is lacking. That is the scuba cylinder itself. In September, 2011 another diver was fatally injured when one of his cylinders ruptured explosively. At the time of this writing, the details of that accident are not known but are not relevant to this writing.
What is relevant is the dive community reaction to this tragic accident. Within hours following the accident, scuba divers began to report what they perceived to be facts or claim expert opinion on the event. Internet chat rooms and other internet communication forms were filled with statements. On one posting site I found about 20 comments on “what did occur”, “what likely occurred” and “why it occurred” as well as why it would not have occurred had the diver discarded older cylinders, avoided certain cylinder brands, etc.
Sadly, not one of the comments was factual. The writers were simply repeating the many myths and ignorance that are all too common in the dive industry today. How do we ensure that scuba divers know what they need to know about their cylinder?
In 1980, after being in the dive industry professionally for 25 years, I realized that we divers didn’t know enough about our cylinders to prevent the multiple explosive ruptures that were happening each year. We thought scuba cylinders were unique and special. The only unique or special thing about scuba cylinders is the valve (and the fact that we put them underwater). All federal laws that apply to industrial gas cylinders apply to scuba cylinders and, for scuba, a few additional rules apply. My conclusion was that proper cylinder inspection by trained technical inspectors could cause the removal of dangerous scuba cylinders from service, therefore approaching zero explosions. The PSI, Inc. Corporation has done that now for 28 years. With nearly 30,000cylinder inspectors trained for all gas industry users, the explosive rupture rate has declined dramatically. The miss-information among scuba divers however has not decline sufficiently.
So, how do we stop the continuing tragic accidents among scuba divers from ruptured cylinders and how do we cylinder owners more knowledgeable about cylinder safety? A tremendous step in the right direction is for scuba instructors to include cylinder safety in their basic, advanced and specialty scuba classes. To accomplish this, the instructor must learn the facts, not the “hand-me-down myths and outright untruths about high pressure cylinders that circulate in the dive industry.
As part of a scuba diving instructor’s education, the training should include specific cylinder safety instruction. Once both the scuba instructor and the diving community as a whole understands the safety issues relating to the hazardous material they place on their backs, place close to loved ones in their home and stack in the truck of their cars accidents and ridiculous statements by divers will decline.
That’s right, scuba pressurized scuba cylinders are, by law, hazardous material. Overfilled cylinders are illegal, double burst discs are illegal, modifying the cylinder is illegal, and keeping damaged cylinders in service is both unethical and stupid.
Scuba instructors, become educated about cylinder safety. It’s called continuing education. Share that knowledge with your scuba students and resist spouting opinions about diving subjects for which you are not actually an expert.
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