The primary reason for having a structured scientific diving program is to allow educational and scientific diving to be conducted safely and effectively outside the restrictive standards created by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for commercial divers. From 1977 until 1982, research divers from across the country, including a group called the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) petitioned to exempt scientific divers from the "commercial diver" category. The scientific diving programs in effect at the time had impressive safety records and had been essentially self-regulated, with their own operational standards and guidelines.

In 1982, OSHA exempted scientific diving from commercial diving regulations (29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart T) under certain conditions which are outlined below. The final guidelines for the exemption became effective in 1985 (Federal Register, Vol. 50, No.6, p.1046). The American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) is recognized by OSHA as the scientific diving standard setting organization.

Scientific Diving Definition:

Scientific diving is defined (29 CFR 1910.402) as diving performed solely as a necessary part of a scientific, research, or educational activity by employees whose sole purpose for diving is to perform scientific research tasks.

Scientific Diving Exemption:

OSHA has granted an exemption for scientific diving from commercial diving regulations under the following guidelines:

  • The Diving Control Board consists of a majority of active scientific divers and has autonomous and absolute authority over the scientific diving program's operation.
  • The purpose of the project using scientific diving is the advancement of science; therefore, information and data resulting from the project are non-proprietary.
  • The tasks of a scientific diver are those of an observer and data gatherer. Construction and trouble-shooting tasks traditionally associated with commercial diving are not included within scientific diving.
  • Scientific divers, based on the nature of their activities, must use scientific expertise in studying the underwater environment and therefore, are scientists or scientists-in-training.

In addition, the scientific diving program shall contain at least the following elements:

  • A Diving Safety Manual which includes at a minimum: Procedures covering all diving operations specific to the program; including procedures for emergency care, recompression and evacuation; and the criteria for diver training and certification.
  • A Diving Control Board, with the majority of its members being active scientific divers, which shall at a minimum have the authority to: approve and monitor diving projects, review and revise the diving safety manual, assure compliance with the manual, certify the depths to which a diver has been trained, take disciplinary action for unsafe practices, and assure adherence to the buddy system (a diver is accompanied by and is in continuous contact with another diver in the water) for scuba diving.

Scientific Diving at Stanford:

Stanford University implemented a formal Scientific Diving Program and became an organizational member of the AAUS in 1985.