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Blame Normalization 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 in open-circuit diving is a failure to analyze gas before diving and in rebreather diving it is a failure to use a pre-dive checklist, 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 Normalization of Deviance has been used to describe the cause of NASA’s flawed decisions that led to the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Normalization 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 behavior. Eventually the diver becomes so accustomed to a deviation from dive safety standards that they consider their unsafe behavior to be acceptably normal. Ultimately one or more safety protocols are permanently deleted from their routine; enabling the diver to have a serious, perhaps fatal, accident. To other divers, the accident is bewildering because the behavior 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 Tek 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 recognizes and addresses normalization of deviance as an underlying cause of many avoidable accidents among experienced divers? If you are an experienced diver, or dive professional, Dive Gear Express urges you to raise awareness of this issue among your peers.

Dan Orr, a long time dive industry professional, has recently written an a detailed article on the concept of normalization of deviance as it specifically pertains to recreational diving. You can read his article at The Normalization of Deviance (aka “Short Cut Mentality”) on DiveNewsWire.