The work on offshore platforms, in mines, steelworks, shipyards or even under water is not carried out by machines alone! Everywhere, professionals are at work doing extremely difficult jobs under extreme operating conditions. Here is our second story “In at the deep end”, a report on professional divers.
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In at the deep end
“Professional diving is one of the only jobs in the world that take place almost exclusively in cold, dark, isolated, dangerous conditions,” says a seasoned commercial diver. “Believe me, it takes nerves of steel, along with extreme endurance and fortitude, to handle some of tasks we encounter.”
Clearly, commercial diving is not for the feint-hearted. Typical jobs in this sector include the maintenance or repair of oil and gas platforms, offshore wind farm turbines and ships that have failed at sea – the currents are strong, the visibility is poor and temperatures are often freezing or below. Where commercial diving takes place in warmer waters, other dangers lurk, not least the threat of shark attack.
Salvage operations on sunken vessels are another diving activity fraught with dangers. The vessel might be upside down or listing at a difficult angle. Often, ships will have sunk to the sea bed, where water pressures are high. The pressures involved at depth are well documented to have adverse effects on the ear drums, sinuses and lungs.
“Exploring inside a sunken ship is a journey into the unknown,” says our diver. “Furniture and fixings will likely have moved, creating danger in unstable structures and confined spaces, while the shock of finding perished souls is extremely harrowing. Many diving fatalities are the result of a cascade of incidents that overwhelm divers.”
Often, because of the depth, the job is performed in the dark, with only a headlamp to light the way. Many divers can recite stories of sudden encounters with manta rays, wolf eels, giant jellyfish and venomous octopi.
Military/Naval diving offers a number of different, equally dangerous specialisations. Typical activities include underwater demolition, defusing and clearing mines, and searching for explosive devices attached to the hulls of ships. This is on top of the salvage or recovery of ships, submarines and downed aircraft.
Inland or onshore diving is similar to offshore diving in terms of the nature of work and the equipment used. This type of diving is often in support of land-based civil engineering projects. Divers can be found working in harbours and lakes, on hydroelectric dams, in rivers and around bridges and pontoons.
In virtually all of these environments, one factor remains constant – the need for reliable equipment. Apparatus such as subsea hoists, for example, must be safe, rugged, rated for depth, and feature overload protection. Hoists should also deliver high performance sealing qualities, while valves must offer easy operation by gloved divers.
“A hoist not fit for purpose will place unnecessary strain on both the diving personnel and the task in hand,” he says.
Ultimately, not everybody is cut out for this job. A diver must be well-disciplined and perceptive for he is likely to encounter a variety of unexpected hazards. Countless divers have worked previously in other dangerous careers – many are ex-military, or have worked as miners or firefighters.
“The best are those who have confidence in themselves and their abilities,” says our wizened diver. “You have to have faith in the equipment you are using, and be willing to adapt to any situation. These are the things that keep us alive.”