HSE warns of dangers of diving for shellfish following two recent tragedies

Health and Safety Executive - Safety alert

Department Name:
Offshore Division: Diving Group

Bulletin No:
HID 1-2011

Issue Date:
22 June 2011

Target Audience:

Key Issues:
There have been two recent fatalities involving shellfish diving in inshore waters. This safety alert is to remind those working in this sector of HSE's guidance and their legal responsibilities.


In recent weeks, HSE has investigated two separate fatalities involving diving for shellfish. This can be a dangerous activity and needs to be carried out by competent and appropriately qualified divers. Suitable plans and procedures are key to the whole diving team conducting activities safely and reacting effectively in a diving emergency. Any diving activity undertaken without regard for the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 will be putting people's lives at risk.


Diving is a hazardous activity, but if it is conducted properly, in accordance with the regulations and guidance, it can be undertaken with less risk. Simple measures taken to ensure that a diver in trouble can communicate to the dive supervisor and that the diver is marked by a line and float, or by a line to an attendant on the dive boat, maximise the chance of a successful outcome to an emergency situation.

Shellfish diving teams may be employees of a larger organisation but are more likely to be a group of self-employed divers working with a boat owner or master who assists them. The Diving at Work Regulations 1997 emphasise that diving is a team activity where the members of the team need clearly defined responsibilities.

Action required:

HSE has long established guidance for divers engaged in this sort of activity (Commercial shellfish diving in inshore water: Diving at Work Regulations 1997), which can be freely downloaded from HSE's website.

The guide states that the minimum team size normally required to conduct a dive safely when diving for shellfish is three - a supervisor, a working diver, and a standby diver. Additional people may be required to operate the boat and to assist in an emergency. The standby diver should be in immediate readiness to provide any assistance to the diver in the water.

Those not employed by the diving contractor but who are included in the dive team must be competent for the work they are going to do. They should be familiar with the diving contractor's procedures, rules and the diving equipment being used.

For anyone involved in this activity, HSE's guidance requires:

  • the appointment of a diving supervisor,
  • preparation of a diving project plan,
  • preparation of a risk assessment and
  • preparation of emergency procedures

The diver must have:

  • an independent secondary air source
  • a means of providing positive buoyancy (in addition to dry suit air inflation)
  • a means of emergency location (eg flares)
  • a lifeline from the diver to the surface

Relevant legal documents:

Further information:

HSE's website has a section specifically for diving activities:


Diving Operations Strategy Team HID OSD 4.4
Health and Safety Executive
Wren House
Hedgerows Business Park
Colchester Road, Springfield,
Essex CM2 5PF

General note:

Please pass this information to anyone involved in shellfish diving

Is this page useful?