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Positive reform of tuna farm diving in South Australia in response to government intervention


OBJECTIVES Much of the tuna harvested in South Australia since 1990 has involved “farming” techniques requiring the use of divers. From 1993 to 1995, 17 divers from this industry were treated for decompression illness (DCI). In response, the State Government introduced corrective strategies. A decrease in the number of divers presenting for treatment was subsequently recorded. Consequently, the hypothesis was tested that the government intervention resulted in a decrease in the incidence of DCI in the industry and an improved clinical outcome of divers with DCI.

METHODS The incidence of treated DCI in tuna farm divers was estimated from the number of divers with DCI treated and the number of dives undertaken extrapolated from a survey of the industry in 1997–8. General health was measured in the tuna farm diving population by a valid and reliable self assessment questionnaire. The outcome of the divers treated for DCI was analysed with a modified clinical severity scoring system.

RESULTS The apparent incidence of treated DCI has decreased in tuna farm divers since the government intervention. The evidence supports a truly decreased incidence rather than underreporting. The general health of the tuna farm divers was skewed towards the asymptomatic end of the range, although health scores indicative of DCI were reported after 1.7% of the dives that did not result in recognised DCI. The clinical outcome of the divers treated since the intervention has improved, possibly because of earlier recognition of the disease and hence less time spent diving while having DCI.

CONCLUSIONS The government intervention in the tuna industry in South Australia has resulted in a reduced incidence of DCI in the industry.

  • decompression illness
  • aquaculture
  • education
  • professional

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