Firm Fined Over Diver's Death

An inexperienced diver from Bristol with serious medical conditions died on an organised dive off Dorset when a diving company failed in its duty of care towards him.

Bristol Crown Court heard how Ian Johnson, an instructor and director of Subaquaholics Ltd, had allowed Janek Karon, 54, from Horsecroft Gardens, Bristol to take part in recreational and training dives over the weekend of 18 - 19 October 2008 off Portland in Dorset.

On the Sunday, Mr Karon took part in a dive off Grove Point, with Mr Johnson. When Mr Karon surfaced at the end of the dive he was unresponsive. Mr Johnson, an instructor trained under the standards set by Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), alerted the dive boat skipper and the two men managed to get Mr Karon into the boat.

The pair tried to resuscitate Mr Karon, but he did not respond. He was airlifted from the boat but was pronounced dead at Dorset County Hospital. An inquest found Mr Karon died from drowning with coronary artery disease a contributing factor.

During an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Subaquaholics were unable to produce any of the medical screening forms which Mr Karon should have completed and handed to Subaquaholics before being allowed to dive. It is a legal requirement that student divers under training are medically fit to dive. Had Mr Karon completed a form it would have flagged-up his various conditions which put him at risk of coronary artery disease and resulted in his referral to his GP to assess whether he was fit to dive.

Mr Karon's GP was interviewed by the HSE and confirmed she would not have passed him as fit to dive, given his medical conditions. Mr Karon was obese, had high blood pressure, a high cholesterol reading and chronic kidney disease. He had been prescribed statins to reduce his risk of coronary heart disease. He also suffered from Raynaud's syndrome, where the vascular system responds to cold by shutting down the circulation in the extremities of the body.

Although Mr Karon was a relatively inexperienced diver, Mr Johnson's diving log shows that on the fatal dive, the two divers went to a depth beyond 30m. Under guidelines provided by PADI, a dive between 18m to a maximum of 30m is classified as a deep water dive for divers with greater training and experience. Only highly experienced divers are permitted to dive beyond 30m. PADI also recommends maximum depths should be used conservatively and when planning a dive in cold water or under conditions that may be strenuous a, safety margin of four metres less than the actual depth should be used.

Mr Karon's daughter, Emma Karon, then aged 10, also took part on dives with Subaquaholics. Her mother had filled in a medical form for the company stating that Emma suffered from asthma and had a prescription for asthma medication. However, Emma was not referred to a GP before being allowed to dive, even though it was a legal requirement with this condition.

The investigation also uncovered unsafe procedures at the company, including a lack of proper risk assessments for the dives run on 18/19 October, and no diving logs for the weekend's activities.

Ian Johnson, of School Road, Kingswood, Bristol, pleaded guilty as dive supervisor to breaching Regulation 10 (1) of the Diving at Work Regulations 1997 for both Jan and Emma Karon and was fined £5,000. Subaquaholics Ltd, of Albert Crescent, St Philips, Bristol, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £10,000. Costs in both cases will be decided at a later hearing.

Mr Karon's widow, Shirley Karon, said:

"Our family has been devastated by this needless tragedy which has left me without my husband and my two daughters, Tasha and Emma without their Dad.

"The fourth anniversary of Jan's death is approaching but every day there is something to remind us that he is no longer here.

"The multiple failures revealed in this court case must send a message to those in the diver training industry that they have peoples' lives in their hands.

"Companies responsible for teaching people to dive must follow the regulations which are there for very good reasons. We do not want more people to die in avoidable circumstances."

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector, Richard Martins, said:

"Both Ian Johnson and his company Subaquaholics Ltd fell far below the standard required of those who engage in SCUBA diver training.

"Mr Karon's health should have prevented him from diving, and yet he was taken to a depth which only experienced divers should reach.

"Aside from his health problems, Mr Karon was clinically obese.

"A specialist in diving medicine and Mr Karon's own GP were of the same clear opinion that he would have not passed a diving medical.

"Emma Karon was also put at risk by being allowed to dive given she suffered from asthma but was not assessed by her GP.

"In addition, the risk assessments for the weekend's diving were entirely inadequate while most of the documents required by law were missing.

"These are significant failings, which had fatal consequences for a vulnerable student diver"