Medically Fit to Dive

Under federal law a diver may not pursue a career in commercial diving until the diver has been certified by a qualified hyperbaric physician as “medically fit to dive.” In order to continue within the profession, commercial divers must, thereafter, be medically “cleared” annually.

This law was enacted to ensure that maritime workers engaged in diving as a profession are properly screened and examined for any medical condition which would disqualify them from exposure to hyperbaric conditions. The medical community has provided specific standards that prospective and current commercial divers must

Sport diving at times can be as physically strenuous and mentally demanding as commercial diving.

attain. These standards include weight parameters, the absence of hypertension (high blood pressure), a sound heart and vascular system, a full examination of the central and peripheral nervous system and a checklist of fifty-four physical standards that an examining physician must review in determining whether a diver is physically fit to engage in diving as a profession. Additionally, because of the psychological demands of diving the examining physician is cautioned to take care in reviewing the mental status of prospective divers prior to their being cleared to work in a commercial diving setting.

Should similar physical, psychological and medical standards be established for the certification of sport divers? Sport diving at times can be as physically strenuous and mentally demanding as commercial diving. This is especially true for out-of-shape divers or divers attempting technical dives. The recreational diving industry has opposed and resisted government regulation. There is an argument to be made, however, that the risks and consequence of diving related injury may outweigh the concerns of the sport diving industry. Many legal, ethical and medical questions remain as to whether periodic sport diving physicals should be required, as a matter of law.