The majority of recreational diving deaths in Malta could be prevented with better education and higher standards, according to the head of an international diving safety organisation.
“Diving is about challenging an extreme environment so there will always be accidents,” Alessandor Marroni, founder and president of the Malta-based Divers Alert Network (DAN) Europe told the Times of Malta.
“But the basis of our work is that many of these accidents would be avoidable with proper preventative action, education and standards in duty of care, hazard identification and risk assessment.”
An increasingly popular destination for divers from across Europe, Malta sees a small but significant amount of fatalities every summer, with foreign divers the main victims.
We’re starting in an environment where there is already a good record of managing safety and a serious industry
Issues have also been raised in the occupational diving sector, where following the death of an experienced diver while working at the Cospicua docks last year, some experts described Malta’s standards as “third world”.
Speaking ahead of a safety workshop for local divers and industry figures yesterday, Prof. Marroni said Malta nevertheless had the potential to establish itself as “the world’s safest diving destination”.
“Malta used to have very high standards for diving safety, some of which are now no longer enforced,” he said. “So there is a platform to make these standards even better and create rules for how to manage recreational diving in Malta.
“We’re starting a project in an environment where there is already a good record of managing safety and a serious industry.”
Recreational diving, Prof. Marroni pointed out, had no real set international standards, so standards were typically enforced by national diving training agencies, which are private organisations.
He noted that while there were no major safety failings among local agencies, too often the focus was solely on safety in the water – such as preventing drowning and decompression incidents – when many accidents could actually be avoided with additional care before the diver got into the water. “Safety in the water is obviously important because it is an extraordinary environment, but proper management of equipment and procedures, customer care quality and duty of care are also part of excellence,” Prof. Marroni said.
“You can’t be narrow-minded about safety; you have to be able to foresee any possible problems.”
DAN Europe, which was set up in Malta in 1996, signed a memorandum of understanding last Friday with the Institute of Tourism Studies, which will lead to the creation of an International Institute of Diving Medicine and Safety.
The institute will offer a national and international academic education programme with a focus on diving safety, medicine and research and, eventually, an academic Masters in Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine.
“The first scope is awareness,” Prof. Marroni said, citing an outreach campaign that the foundation is running across the Mediterranean this year.
“By improving education, you improve safety inherently. But it is also likely, as a by-product, that revision of existing standards, or even completely new standards, will be considered and then later enforced.”
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