BSAC Annual Report shows Increased Fatalities but Static Overall Incident Numbers

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The UK saw its highest number of scuba diving fatalities since 2004, according to the latest British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) incident report.

Nineteen divers - six of which were BSAC members - died while scuba diving, out of a total of 251 recorded incidents between October 2017 and September 2018. The figure represents an increase from an average of 13 fatalities per year over the last 10 years, but lower than the 25 recorded in 2004. 215 of the incidents occurred in the UK, while the remainder happened to BSAC members who were diving abroad.

Overall, however, the number of incidents recorded has remained fairly stable over the past five years, and is significantly lower than a peak of almost 500 incidents in 2005.

The report, compiled by BSAC Incident Advisors Clare Peddie and Jim Watson, contains BSAC's own data, along with incident reports from other dive training agencies, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), Ministry of Defence, PADI EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), and RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Incidents are split across eight different categories: ascents, boat/surface, DCI, equipment, fatality, injury, miscellaneous and technique. Of these, there was an increase in the number of fatalities and injuries, but the remaining categories all saw decreases from the previous five-year average. Notably, confirmed cases of DCI were significantly reduced in number, with 48 recorded cases, compared to the 2013-2017 average of more than 70, and 56 in the 2017 report.

The largest increase was in the illness and injury category, which saw a rise from an average of 50 to 71 incidents reported in 2018. While this looks severe, it should be noted that the category is very broad and non-specific. Examples given in the report range from seemingly mild cases of ear and mask squeeze, vomiting after swallowing pool water, and a cracked rib as a result of falling on a wet slipway. Other incidents are thought to be the result of decompression illness, however as DCI often presents as more 'normal' ailments, some reports remain inconclusive.

Of particular note is a suspected rise in the occurrences of Immersion Pulmonary Oedema (IPO), a condition where fluid leaks into the lungs from the body's own blood supply. The specific causes are not well understood, but may be a result of hypertension (high blood pressure), cold water immersion, or overly-tight wetsuits. 

With regards to the fatalities, the average age of the divers involved was 56, with three of the divers over 70 years old. Fifteen of the nineteen casualties fell unconscious underwater, two were confirmed as the result of pre-existing medical conditions, strongly implicated in five of the others. The above-mentioned IPO is also thought to be a contributory factor. Four of the casulaties were solo diving, and six cases involved divers being separated from their buddy. 

The report highlights the fact that in all but two of the fatalities, there is insufficient information to determine the root cause of the incident.

The report also highlights the successful application of in-water rescue techniques, with a particular focus on alternate air source use and the controlled buoyant lift (where divers control the ascent using the BCD of the diver in trouble). A success rate of 85 per cent and 78 per cent respectively prove the importance of learning and maintaining the use of these skills.

For more information, the full report can be downloaded, free of charge, from the BSAC website.






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