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Blame Normalisation of Deviance, Not "Complacency"
Every year experienced divers die in diving related avoidable accidents that should not have happened because the victim was "always so careful". One of the more common examples is a failure to analyse gas before diving, but there are many different types of avoidable accidents. The usual explanation put forward is a lapse in following their training, typically as a result of complacency. The victim is blamed for becoming complacent, the dive community is again reminded to be vigilant against complacency, and then another avoidable accident occurs. Perhaps a different way of explaining the cause of these predictable accidents could help effect a change in this unfortunate cycle.
The concept of Normalisation of Deviance has been used to describe the cause of NASA's flawed decisions that led to the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Normalisation of deviance from dive safety begins when the diver has a lapse in one or more safety protocols (often as a result of time and/or financial pressures) and nothing bad happens. The lapse reoccurs without incident and slowly the diver grows more accustomed to the deviant behaviour. Eventually the diver becomes so accustomed to a deviation from dive safety standards that they consider their unsafe behaviour to be acceptably normal. Ultimately one or more safety protocols are permanently deleted from their routine; enabling the diver have a serious, perhaps fatal, accident. To other divers, the accident is bewildering because the behaviour seems obviously unsafe and the victim had enough training and certainly enough experience to "know better".
It's clearly not productive to keep blaming the victim for these avoidable accidents. We can't solve this complex problem in a Tech Tip but a step to addressing this dive safety issue is to begin a discussion within the dive training community. Do we need a different educational approach that formally recognises and addresses normalisation of deviance as an underlying cause of many avoidable accidents among experienced divers? If you are an experienced diver, or dive professional, The Scuba Doctor urges you to raise awareness of this issue among your peers.
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