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Fitness to dive

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Title: Fitness to dive  
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Subject: Human factors in diving safety, Fraction of inspired oxygen, Normocapnia, Diving Diseases Research Centre, Breathing performance of regulators
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Fitness to dive

PC Based Spirometer output
Hand held spirometer with display and transducer

Fitness to dive, (also Medical fitness to dive), is the medical and physical suitability of a diver to function safely in the underwater environment using underwater diving equipment and procedures. Depending on the circumstances it may be established by a signed statement by the diver that he or she does not suffer from any of the listed disqualifying conditions and is able to manage the ordinary physical requirements of diving, to a detailed medical examination by a physician registered as a medical examiner of divers following a procedural checklist, and a legal document of fitness to dive issued by the medical examiner.

The most important medical is the one before starting diving, as the diver can be screened to prevent exposure when a dangerous condition exists. The other important medicals are after some significant illness, where medical intervention is needed there and has to be done by a doctor who is competent in diving medicine, and can not be done by prescriptive rules.[1]

General requirements

The medical, mental and physical fitness of professional divers is important for safety at work for the diver and the other members of the diving team.[2]

As a general principle, fitness to dive is dependent on the absence of conditions which would constitute an unacceptable risk for the diver, and for professional divers, to any member of the diving team. General physical fitness requirements are also often specified by a certifying agency, and are usually related to ability to swim and perform the activities that are associated with the relevant type of diving.

The general hazards of diving are much the same for recreational divers and professional divers, but the risks vary with the diving procedures used. These risks are reduced by appropriate skills and equipment.

Medical fitness to dive generally implies that the diver has no known medical conditions that limit the ability to do the job, jeopardise the safety of the diver or the team, that might get worse as an effect of diving, or predispose the diver to diving or occupational illness.[2]

There are 3 types of diver medical assessment: Initial assessments, routine re-assessments and special re-assessments after injury or decompression illness.[2]

Fitness of recreational divers

Standards for fitness to dive are specified by the diver certification agency which will issue certification to the diver after training. Some agencies consider assessment of fitness to dive as largely the responsibility of the individual diver, others require a registered medical practitioner to make an examination based on specified criteria. These criteria are generally common to certification agencies, and are based on the criteria for professional divers, though the standards may be relaxed.

The purpose of establishing fitness to dive is to reduce risk of a range of diving related medical conditions associated with known or suspected pre-existing conditions, and is not generally an indication of the person's psychological suitability for diving and has no reference to their diving skills.

A certification of fitness to dive is generally for a specified period, (usually a year or less), and may specify limitations or restrictions.

In most cases, a statement or certificate of fitness to dive for recreational divers is only required during training courses. Ordinary recreational diving is at the diver's own risk.

In rare cases, state or national legislation may require recreational divers to be examined by registered medical examiners of divers.[3] In France, Norway, Portugal and Israel. recreational divers are required by regulation to be examined for medical fitness to dive.[4]

Standard forms for recreational diving

Recreational diver certification agencies may provide a standard document[5] which the diver is required to complete, specifying whether any of a range of conditions apply to the diver. If no disqualifying conditions are admitted, the diver is considered to be fit to dive. Occasionally divers have provided deliberately falsified medical forms, stating that they do not have conditions which would disqualify them from diving, sometimes with fatal consequences.

The RSTC medical statement is used by all RSTC member affiliates of the RSTC Canada, RSTC, RSTC-Europe and IAC (former Barakuda), FIAS, ANIS, SSI Europe, PADI Norway, PADI Sweden, PADI Asia Pacific, PADI Japan, PADI Canada, PADI Americas, PADI Worldwide, IDD Europe, YMCA, IDEA, PDIC, SSI International, BSAC Japan and NASDS Japan.[6]

Other certification agencies may rely on the competence of a general practitioner to assess fitness to dive, either with or without an agency specified checklist.

In some cases the certification agency may require a medical examination by a registered medical examiner of divers.

Fitness of professional divers

The requirements for medical examination and certification of fitness of professional divers is typically regulated by national or state legislation for occupational health and safety[7]

Fitness testing procedures

Typical output from a spirometer of a normal person taking 4 tidal breaths, followed by maximal inspiration and expiration. Corresponding volumes and capacities are noted in the right-hand boxes.
Cardiac stress test

Lung function tests

A frequently used test for lung function for divers is spirometry, which measures the amount (volume) and/or speed (flow) of air that can be inhaled and exhaled. Spirometry is an important tool used for generating pneumotachographs, which are helpful in assessing conditions such as asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and COPD, all of which are contraindications for diving. Sometimes only Peak expiratory flow (PEF) is measured, which uses a much simpler apparatus, but is still useful to give an indication of lung overpressure risk.

Cardiac stress test

The cardiac stress test is done with heart stimulation, either by exercise on a treadmill, or pedalling a stationary exercise bicycle ergometer, with the patient connected to an electrocardiogram (or ECG).

The Harvard Step Test is a type of cardiac stress test for detecting and/or diagnosing cardiovascular disease. It also is a good measurement of fitness, and the ability to recover after a strenuous exercise, and is sometimes used as an alternative for the cardiac stress test.

Medical Examiner of Divers

Disqualifying conditions

The general principles for disqualification are that diving causes a deterioration in the medical condition and the medical condition presents an increased risk for a diving injury to both the individual and the diving partner.[5]

There are some conditions that are considered absolute contraindications for diving. Details vary between recreational and professional diving and in different parts of the world. Those listed below are widely recognised.

Permanently disqualifying conditions

  • If epilepsy is required to be controlled by medication, diving is contraindicated. (This includes childhood seizure disorders requiring medication). A possible acceptable risk would be a history of febrile seizures in infancy, apneic spells or seizures attendant to acute illness such as encephalitis and meningitis, all without recurrence without medication.[8]
  • Stroke and transient ischemic attacks.[8]
  • Intercranial aneurysm, arterial-venous malformation or tumor.[8]
  • Exertional angina, postmyocardial infarction with left ventricular dysfunction, congestive heart failure, or dependence on medication to control dysrhythmias.[8]
  • Postcoronary bypass surgery with violation of pleural spaces.[8]
  • A history of spontaneous pneumothorax.[8]

Temporarily disqualifying conditions

Any illness requiring drug treatment may constitute a temporary disqualification if either the illness or the drug may compromise diving safety. Sedatives, tranquillisers, antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-diabetic drugs, steroids, anti-hypertensives, anti-epilepsy drugs, alcohol and hallucinatory drugs such as marijuana and LSD may increase risk to the diver. Some drugs which affect brain function have unpredictable effects on a diver exposed to high pressure in deep diving.[9]

Conditions which may require restrictions on diving activity

Also referred to as relative contraindications. These are conditions which may require the diver to restrict the scope of activities or take specific additional precautions. They may be acute or chronic.

See also


  1. ^ Williams, G. Elliott, DH. Walker, R. Gorman, DF. Haller, V. Fitness to dive: Panel discussion with audience participation. SPUMS 2001 Volume 31 Number 3. Journal of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society accessdate 2013-04-07
  2. ^ a b c Jürg Wendling, David Elliott, Tor Nome (eds); European Diving Technical Council, (2003); Fitness to Dive Standards - Guidelines for Medical Assessment of Working Divers, accessdate 2013-04-09
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d e f Vorosmarti J, Linaweaver PG (eds). Fitness to Dive. 34th Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society Workshop. UHMS Publication Number 70(WS-WD)5-1-87. Bethesda: Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society; 1987; 116 pages. accessdate 2013-04-07
  9. ^

External links

  • Scuba diving restrictions
  • European diving technology committee
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