Cairns Connect
On Being A Divemaster Trainee

by James Travers-Murison

Some years ago I spent three days working as a Dive Master Trainee for Down Under Dive and Dave Ferguson took me on. I was given no contract to sign and started immediately. He told me that I could work for them for $30 per day and they would provide me with the training to reach divemaster level within 3 months.

Ferguson told me to walk down to the NQEA shipyard and to see him there aboard the vessel Atlantic Clipper. He introduced me to another dive trainee. I was told to work with him. The work was to seal carpets on the deck with plastic. This was on a raised area towards the stern of the vessel.

There was nothing to stop anyone falling off the vessel there and the drop was about 50 feet. Then I was given a wire grinder and we ground out the carpet. I was given no training in how to do this. The brush got so hot that it started to burn my hand. I asked for gloves and I was told that there weren't any. I still complained and was then allowed to get some gloves from the store.

There were fumes coming off the carpet and I was given a paper mask that was ineffective.

The next day the mechanic asked me to go into a diesel tank and hose it down. To get to this I had to go through the forward cabins and then underneath through a narrow conduit.

The mechanic told me I had to climb inside the diesel tank and use a high-pressure hose to clean the fuel off the side of the tank. I asked if I would need a mask. He said that it was not necessary, but I put on a paper mask anyway. To get in to the tank I had to climb through an oval bolted manhole. It was difficult to climb through this. The mechanic joked that he hoped that I was not claustrophobic. He gave me a clear face shield and the only lighting we had was a torch. I was given no other advice or training.

The mechanic then said that he was leaving the vessel as he had other work to do. He said that other people would come and check on me, but no one did. I was told that I would have to work in the tank again the next day.

I then climbed into the tank. It was pitch black and smelt heavily of diesel fumes. There was an ankle deep sludge in the bottom. There were ribs on the floor, which I had to balance on as I was wearing sandshoes.

There were about 6 sections in the tank with round holes to access them. I had to climb through these.

It was difficult to see with the torch and I could not see properly through the face shield which kept fogging up, so I had to dispense with it. I used the hose to try and spray off the diesel. Some of it got in my eyes.

I sprayed the whole thing in about 35 minutes. No-one checked on me and as I was starting to get light headed from the fumes, I then got out. I don't know if I had finished the job properly as I was not really sure what I was trying to achieve.

I then went back to the top deck. One of the divemasters asked why I had come up. I said that it was making me feel sick. He said that the mechanic had been down there the whole day. I said maybe I was extra susceptible to the fumes. He did not look happy. I then just cleaned upstairs.

On Saturday I went back to the Atlantic Clipper again. I asked for a proper mask and earplugs. The manager, Steve Moon, went to the store and got the earplugs.

He got me another mask, but it was just a plastic holder for the paper masks. He said that this was all there was. I then used a grinder on the edge beneath the railings removing rust. I then painted over this. I did the same around some windows. By this time I had secured for myself a mask with filters and goggles, however material coming off the grinder got into my eyes despite the goggles. This caused enough irritation to prevent me continuing and I had to stop and start, waiting for my eyes to clears up. The ear plugs we were given did not adequately block the noise from the grinder. That night my ears were ringing, eyes watering and I felt light headed.

As it appeared that the Company was in breach of Occupational Health and Safety regulations I told the employer I was leaving. Chris Coxan, Dive Inspector at Queensland Department of Workplace Relations said that if this was true the employers were in breach of Safety regulations.

The trainees were all complaining about the work, pay and hours. One Canadian girl had worked for 30 days straight and had not been allowed a day off. Sometimes, if work was not completed the trainees had to stay back until it was finished, without any additional pay. One day they worked from 7am to midnight. However unfortunately it is not just the trainees that are at risk by poor workplace practices.

In my first PADI course with another Dive Company in Airlie Beach, I blew my ears failing to equalise despite signalling to the instructor that I was not ok. He forced me down.

Cramming dive classes with up to 14 students per instructor means safety is compromised. Until there is a fatality everyone is turning a blind-eye, commented one tourist I spoke to in Cairns.

Steve Moon did not return my calls asking for an interview, however several weeks later after Senator McLucas had contacted him he rang me back. When questioned by me on Down Under Dive's safety operations, stated that all trainees were given an induction course prior to working on the refit, this covered working in a confined space. He stated that the mechanic had had no authority to ask me to work in the fuel tank and that further I was negligent in agreeing to go in there.

When questioned about the lack of training in use of grinders, etc, he responded by saying, "perhaps you've lacked a broad childhood". Steve maybe right, but one has to ask is this an acceptable excuse for not complying with safety regulations. Bullying junior workers and belittling them for insisting on a safe workplace should rest in the grave of all those injured and dead from work related accidents.

Chris Parr at Workplace Health and Safety said that Down Under Dive had not complied with the regulations on working in a Confined Space. He said that the fumes were well below the legal limit in the fuel tank and when I asked if he thought working 8 hours at the legal limit of fumes was safe and would have no long term detrimental health effects, he refused to comment.

He said apart from that there were no other enforceable breaches by the company, furthermore apart from a warning there was little WH&S could do unless there were consistent breaches by an employer.

The Atlantic Clipper won't be in the dry dock for quite some time, so Down Under Dive is free of any further hassles.

I met one young Aussie dive trainee who had finished up with Down Under Dive the other day. He recognised me and said he was going to work as a rigger.


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