MARITIME SAFETY AND HEALTH STUDIES

Commercial Diving

Commercial diver welding under water.

Commercial diver welding under water. Photo: Thinkstock

Commercial divers perform a variety of tasks underwater, from maintenance and repair to scientific research. Some examples of commercial diving work activities include inspecting the condition of a bridge or a vessel’s hull, clearing a propeller, repairing sewer pipes, and photographing marine life. As of 2017, there were an estimated 3,380 commercial divers in the United States.1 These divers span multiple industries due to the wide range of jobs and skills, and are mostly concentrated in states sharing borders with an ocean or the Great Lakes, performing both inshore and offshore dive operations.2

Commercial divers are exposed to a variety of marine hazards, including drowning, respiratory and circulatory complications, and hypothermia, which can be worsened by the number and length of dives, physical demands of diving, and limited visibility underwater. Age, physical fitness, and experience of the divers are suggested to be associated with these health effects. Further, divers are exposed to hazards similar to those working in construction while performing certain work activities, such as welding, operating heavy equipment, and working with power tools.2-3

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 460 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses among commercial divers involving days away from work during 2011–2017,4 and an additional 39 fatal occupational injuries during 2011–2017 .5

  1. BLS [2019]. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018: 49-9092 Commercial Divers. . Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes499092.htmExternalexternal iconexternal icon
  2. OSHA [no date]. Safety and Health Topics: Commercial Diving. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration,https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/commercialdiving/index.htmlExternalexternal iconexternal icon
  3. Overland T [1992]. Commercial Diving. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences Repetitive Diving Workshop.
  4. BLS [2019]. Number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work by selected worker and case characteristics and occupation, all U.S., all ownerships, 2011 – 2017, commercial divers. In Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/data/#injuriesExternalexternal iconexternal icon
  5. BLS [2019] Fatal occupational injuries by selected worker characteristics and selected occupation, all U.S., all ownerships, 2011-2017, commercial divers. In Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/data/#injuriesExternalxternal iconexternal icon
Page last reviewed: March 11, 2020