The Challenges of Applying Structure to Unstructured Activities

The first part of my PhD research is now well underway. I have a team of 14 SMEs validating the model I have developed to make sure I have captured everything; some results are already in and the feedback has been very useful. Mid-November 2013 I aim to kick-off an online survey to capture the distribution of the causality factors amongst the UK diving community. This will involve a fairly large social media campaign to collect the 1000 samples I require.

Whilst I am waiting for the validation, I thought I would start to look at Objectives 4 and 5 and how I need to develop the model against which the Delphi method will be employed.

The aim of Objectives 4 and 5 are to determine the top 20% of causality factors at the Supervisory and Organisational layer within the HFACS model.


This original model was developed from the analysis of a large number of US Marine Corp aviation accidents and has subsequently been used for a significant number of research papers but in all of the cases they have been focussed on environments where there is a known and defined organisational and supervisory structure. This isn’t the case with Sport (Recreational and Technical) diving.

I believe there are three main groups of divers within Sport diving:

  • ‘Fun’ divers who just want to go diving without any formal supervisory structure – can be likened to hill walkers but underwater. You don’t NEED a qualification or training to go diving but you need to be aware of the risks you are taking if you don’t.
  • ‘Voluntary’ instructors who operate inside a club environment but do not come under the HSE ‘At Work’ definition; these include BSAC, SAA or ScotSAC instructors. Whilst they are not required to comply with HSE regulations, they still have a ‘duty of care’ to their charges and must comply with the agency training standards when delivering training.
  • ‘At Work’ instructors, DMs and guides who operate inside a ‘club’ environment, work for a dive centre or who are self-employed and come under the HSE ‘At Work’ regulations.

Each one of these groups has a slightly different take on the supervisory or organisational requirements for safety/influences on incident causality. At the lower end, there are no ‘dive police’ and divers can do what they like as long as they don’t endanger others in the process. They need to be a little more aware of the risks because ultimately it is down to personal responsibility. At the top end, there is a formal agency training delivery structure in place but that doesn’t mean that the end product (trained diver) has a direct link to the training organisation as you can see from the diagram below.


And when you consider the structure of diving overall in the UK, you can see it is quite complicated!


The challenge is trying to write a taxonomy that covers these three groups which can then be used in a Delphi Method survey. A survey which needs to have the support of the training agencies to ensure I don’t have a biased return (which would be likely if I conducted a pure social media campaign to recruit subjects) but at the same time recognising that their influence over what actually happens when the qualified diver goes diving is pretty limited and that a significant number of divers conduct their diving outside of any supervisory structure.

Whoever said a PhD was going to be easy…there is as much about recognising social groups, their interactions, the personalities involved, and their prejudices and biases as there is about reading journal papers and books and determining incident causality.

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