This safety alert updates the previous advice issued in May 2020 and highlights the serious health and safety risks posed for occupational divers if they have been exposed to coronavirus COVID-19.

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COVID-19 and Diver Safety (PDF 168 KB)

What happened?

In the last few months we have seen the global spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and its entry into the New Zealand community.

The New Zealand Government has moved to a Protection Framework (traffic light system) whereby the spread of COVID-19 will become more commonplace within the workforce.

Though many people may not be affected, those that are can range from being asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) to suffering from severe respiratory responses.

Incidents of respiratory distress have resulted in some people showing possible longer-term damage to their lungs.

This increases the potential for serious harm to divers and highlights the importance of establishing safe medical standards for those who may have been infected with COVID-19.

International experience and medical studies have allowed hyperbaric specialists to establish updated advice on what to do if exposed to COVID-19 and how to best protect divers.

What we know

A respiratory injury can cause serious harm to a diver.

Occupational divers have to pass annual medical assessments to be deemed to be medically fit.

Though there has been no formal study into the effects of COVID-19 on occupational divers, general clinical observations indicate that COVID-19:

  • transmits easily from person to person
  • a person may be asymptomatic but still test positive
  • may not present symptoms for 10–14 days
  • often shows symptoms similar to influenza
  • can include serious respiratory disease such as chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma.

The best way to protect yourself and others around you from the effects of COVID-19 is to be double vaccinated and boosted.

WorkSafe advice

Anyone with respiratory symptoms should not dive and should arrange for COVID-19 testing. If testing is negative, they should see their GP for further advice and appropriate treatment for their symptoms.

Anyone being vaccinated should monitor for any sideeffects (generally these are nil or mild) and do not dive if feeling unwell. A return to diving can occur when any symptoms have passed.

If someone is a ‘Close Contact’ (as per the Ministry of Health classification) they should not dive until cleared by the Public Health Service (PHS) to return to work. See the Ministry of Health’s website for the definition
of Close Contact(external link)

If someone has tested positive for COVID-19 they must not dive even if they are asymptomatic. Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should advise the Diving Hyperbaric Medicine Service (DHMS) at divemeds@gmail.com and follow any Health advice.

If tested positive for COVID-19 refer to the following table before returning to diving:

Positive covid test and medical condition Definition Recommendations
Asymptomatic throughout infection period and no change to fitness level Asymptomatic – showing no associated
cold, flu or respiratory symptoms.
  • No diving for one month from date of positive test and have received a negative test and clearance from the PHS.
  • Email DHMS at divemeds@gmail.com when clear.
Mild symptoms (symptoms showing for less than two
weeks) and a return to normal levels of fitness
Mild symptoms are defined as not
needing hospital level care, and not needing supplemental oxygen, and not requiring any imaging (x-rays, scans, etc).
  • No diving for one month from date of positive test and have received a negative test and clearance from the PHS.
  • Email DHMS at divemeds@gmail.com when clear.
Mild symptoms for more than 2 weeks and a return to normal levels of fitness (Same as above)
  • No diving for one month from last symptoms and have received a negative test and clearance from the PHS.
  • Full diving medical exam with spirometry required.
  • New DHMS Medical Clearance required (send Questionnaire and Medical Exam to DHMS)
Moderate symptoms and
a return to normal levels of fitness
Needing hospital care or supplemental oxygen or any imaging
  • No diving for two months from last symptoms and have
    received a negative test and clearance from the PHS.
  • Full diving medical with spirometry required plus
    possible chest X-ray, thin slice chest CT, echocardiogram (as determined by DHMS)
  • New DHMS Medical Clearance required (send Questionnaire and Medical Exam to DHMS)
Severe symptoms and a return to normal levels of fitness Needing hospital care in High Dependency Unit or ICU
  • No diving for three months from last symptoms and have received a negative test and clearance from
    the PHS.
  • Full diving medical with spirometry required plus
    possible chest X-ray, thin slice chest CT, echocardiogram (as determined by DHMS)
  • New DHMS Medical Clearance required (send Questionnaire and Medical Exam to DHMS)
No return to normal level of fitness Longer term effects may persist
  • No diving while symptoms persist.
  • Contact the DHMS for further advice.

Remember – you must advise the DHMS if you have received a positive COVID-19 Test result and also once cleared by the PHS.

COVID-19 can have serious medical effects for divers. All workers and Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to ensure their own health and safety and the health and safety of those around them. Monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and following this medical advice will help
manage the risks for occupational divers.

Further information


Occupational diving guidance
List of designated diving doctors
Diving Hyperbaric Medicine Service(external link)


Acknowledgement

This safety alert has been developed in consultation with Diving Industry Advisory Group hyperbaric medical specialists.