Hiring a Commercial Diving Contractor | Underwater Contractor
A Guide to Hiring a “Commercial Diving” Contractor
When a utility, engineering firm, contractor or industrial company has a need to contract underwater services, how should it go about it? There are a number of factors to consider and questions to answer when issuing a request for services.
How do you assure yourself that you’re contracting with a capable and responsible firm, minimizing your risk exposure, and getting maximum value for the dollar expended? Will you strictly be awarding contracts on the basis of low bid or on the appropriate bid which maximizes productivity and keeps you out of trouble? What regulations should be identified as governing? What insurance requirements should be applied?
“Employing the right underwater contractor can reduce legal and criminal liability exposure in case of accidents.”
Purchasing agents, engineers, and project management personnel who have had little experience in contracting for such services frequently are led down the garden path by slick talk, by a lack of knowledge of regulations in effect, and by the mistaken belief that the easier (cheaper) way out is the most intelligent. Just because a particular contractor has furnished prior services does not mean that he did so in a responsible and safe manner.
You are no doubt often faced with bids received from local recreational diving shops, from individual SCUBA divers, fly by night pseudo diving companies or from persons who claim commercial diver certification because they hold a recreational certification card from organizations such as PADI (Professional Assn. of Diving Instructors), NAUI (National Assn. of Diving Instructors), YMCA, or others. There is a difference!
Commercial diver personnel are those trained in a formal setting to engage in the practice. These persons serve a period of apprenticeship, first as a tender, then as a diver/tender, and finally, they are designated as a diver. During these periods which can aggregate over many years, these professional divers are learning how to perform underwater tasks in a professional and competent manner, how to conduct their activities in a safe manner, and how to recognize hazards before they occur.
PADI, NAUI, and YMCA have all stated by published letter that their training is intended to prepare an individual for the conduct of recreational diving only and that entry into commercial diving activities requires additional formal training at a recognized commercial diving training school, military school, or equivalent. You must be certain that work is carried out in accordance with strict regulatory standards. OSHA has issued a written clarification which states that the minimum number of dive team members must be three in number (3): a designated person in charge (sometimes referred to as the diving supervisor), a diver, and a tender who continually tends the diver while he or she is in the water.
OSHA further emphasizes the fact that these 3 persons must be properly trained and experienced in commercial diving in order to conduct operations in a safe and healthful manner [29 CFR 1910.410(a)].
“By law, a fully dive qualified three (3) person team is required as a minimum manning requirement, per OSHA Standards 29 CFR 1910 Subpart T, Commercial Diving Operations“
According to OSHA regulations, Advance Planning and Assessment must be conducted in order to determine whether additional personnel must be added to the dive team [29 CFR 1910.421(d) (1) through (9)]. Thus, although you may require by the bid specification that a minimum of three persons be employed at the dive site, the chosen contractor is perfectly within his area of responsibility to discuss increasing that number of persons where Planning and Assessment clearly indicates the need to do so.
You must require evidence of proper insurance coverage. As a responsible contracting party, it is critical that you protect your interests against liability which may arise as the result of an injury or fatality incurred by an organization under contract. Bidders must provide verifiable documentation that they are properly covered. Requiring in writing that the bidders conduct the operation according to appropriate regulations may also reduce liability.
Evaluation: A responsible diving contractor should be able to state in reasonable detail exactly how he intends to accomplish the specified underwater operation. It would not be unreasonable for you to request that a dive plan be provided to identify the intended method of accomplishing the underwater work requirement, the number of persons who will be deployed at the dive site, the type of equipment utilized, and the manner in which the diving contractor intends to provide you with records of performance.
- Diving mode used including a description of the backup air supply, as required.
- Nature of work to be performed by the divers, including tools used and materials to be handled or installed.
- Anticipated surface and underwater conditions, to include visibility, temperature, currents, etc. Thermal protection will be considered as appropriate.
- Maximum single dive bottom time for the planned depth of dive for each diver. Altitude adjustments to dive tables will be calculated for dives made at altitudes of 1000 ft. or more above sea level.
- Identification of topside assistance/support to the dive team (i.e., crane operator, plant personnel, etc.).
- Plans submitted for Contractor operations shall also include the name of Contractor (and diving subcontractor if applicable) Contract number, and names and contact information for key personnel.
- Date of dive plan submission.
- Name and contact information for the project manager or diving supervisor preparing the dive plan.
- Names and duties of on-site dive team members, including diving supervisor.
- List of diving equipment to be used.
- Type of diving platform to be used.
- Detailed description of the diving task; Identify how/ if work will be divided into separate tasks or phases of work.
- Date(s), time(s), duration, and location of operation.
When evaluating offers from the bidding parties it may be wise to establish a zone of reality. For example, if bids range from $8,000 to $16,000 for the same job, something is wrong! It may be that the bidding parties do not fully understand the scope of work, or perhaps an attempt is being made by one or more to buy the work, thinking that change orders or modifications will generate the monies which should have been bid at the beginning. Perhaps it would be a prudent move on your part to treat as unresponsive any bids which vary from another by more than 10%-15%. In that regard, your bid statement should clearly state that you have no obligation to accept the low bid.
Frequently, responsible contractors will not be those who bid the lowest price, nor can they compete with firms who fail to carry adequate insurance, operate through the use of freelance personnel, or fail to maintain the equipment specified in applicable regulations. The responsible contractor will work as a partner to ensure that your job is carried out in the most expedient and safe manner possible.
“A commercial dive team member is medically, academically and occupationally qualified.”
Commercial Diving Contractor Checklist:
- Contractor has submitted proof of diver training from an accredited (ACDE) commercial dive school for all team members.
- Contractor has submitted proof of current first aid/CPR training for each dive team member.
- Contractor has submitted copies of annual medical examination determining diver is fit to perform assigned tasks for each team member.
- Contractor has submitted breathing air purity test results for breathing air source(s) – tested every 6 months.
- Contractor has submitted breathing gas supply hose testing documentation – tested at least annually to 1.5 times their working pressure.
- Contractor has submitted depth gauge testing documentation – calibrated every 6 months.
- Contractor has submitted a certificate of insurance (verified that it is current and includes commercial diving work) including auto policies, Workman’s Compensation, State Act Diving, USL&H, General Liability and Pollution Control.
- Contractor has a shop for properly storing, maintaining and repairing life support equipment, and is not a home based business.
- Contractor is legal, registered corporate entity in at least its home state.
- Contractor hires employees, not subcontractors to circumvent proper State Act Workers Compensation Insurance and General Liability Insurance.
- Contractor has submitted a dive plan for the project.
Midco Diving and Marine Services Inc. is available to answer any and all questions regarding commercial diving operations to help the end user better understand the myriad of qualifications, requirements, equipment and support required to successfully implement and complete a project utilizing commercial divers.
“Don’t rely upon a purchasing agent to compound your potential liability by only selecting the low bidder!”