The parents of a diver killed while working for a Broome pearling company say they’ve been left in the dark about why long-planned safety regulations for the industry have been quietly scrapped.

Key points:

  • Jarrod Hampton’s death in 2012 prompted Worksafe to develop a draft safety code that would tighten regulations for workers and employers in the diving industry
  • But Worksafe told the ABC last month the draft had to be abandoned after failing to win industry support
  • Jarrod’s parents say they’ve been offered very little information about why the code was so divisive

Tony and Robyn Hampton have campaigned for a legally enforceable pearling industry code of practice after their son Jarrod died while working for Paspaley Pearling Company in 2012.

Jarrod was only 22 and was on his second day at work as a drift diver when he became incapacitated by an air embolism and drowned.

The coroner’s report made a raft of recommendations about diver’s safety in the wake of the incident, and Worksafe committed to developing a draft code of practice for the occupational diving industry.

The code had been in development for nearly eight years when a draft was released for comment in May last year, with industry given over seven months to provide submissions.

A store front of Paspaley Pearls in Darwin

The coroner found while Paspaley had mostly complied with the code of conduct, it failed to properly train and practice its workers.(

Cathy Harper: ABC

)

But last month, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety revealed the code had been binned.

“The consultation feedback indicated that the code was not well received and there was generally an overwhelming lack of support for it.”

Overambitious code fails to strike right note

Seventeen submissions were received from a wide range of sectors including those in the pearling, abalone, fishing, diving and safety industries, as well as offshore and onshore petroleum sectors.

The primary reason for the industry’s reluctance appeared to be a preference for the Australian and New Zealand national standard, but the department said it was unable to disclose which industries raised specific concerns about how the code was looking.

A man and a woman sit shoulder to shoulder in a TV interview.

Robyn Hampton and Tony Hampton first spoke to Four Corners in 2015.(

Four Corners

)

It was a broad stroke approach to a set of safety regulations that the Hamptons knew all along should only have attempted to tackle the cowboys of the pearling industry.

“Originally I was under the understanding that it was to look at the pearl divers, their regulations and the Pearl Producers Association booklet of protocol, which during Jarrod’s time as a diver was not followed at all,” Ms Hampton said.

Mr Hampton echoed his wife and said from the outset, it was clear there would be problems trying to bring together such vastly different industries under the same protocol.

“From a small family business through to commercial divers, it was just too big a net and I think that’s where it was probably flawed in the first place,” he said.

A diver is at the end of a tether, at the bottom of the ocean. They're holding a rope above their heads

Drift diving is considered a dangerous occupation, with the diver expected to ride quick currents.(

Pearl Producers Association: ABC Rural

)

But the Hamptons said they could not be sure of where the problems with the draft stemmed from.

Mr Hampton said from the beginning of the process, both he and his wife were told they would be kept in the loop about how the code progressed.

However, he said this did not happen.

“We should be able to see who made submissions, what they said and some sort of summing up as to why the whole process has been dropped.”

Unprecedented territory

According to the department, this is the first time a code has been scrapped following the public comment period.

Unions WA secretary Owen Whittle was involved in the process and said it became clear throughout the process the draft of the code did not reflect what was needed in the industry.

Secretary of Unions WA Owen Whittle stands wearing a suit and glasses against a wall.

Unions WA secretary Owen Whittle.(

ABC News: Rebecca Carmody

)

“We’re really concerned that some of the catastrophic incidents we’ve seen in the industry over the year … it’s really been clear that large portions of the industry have not been complying with basic health and safety requirements,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that there is another avenue that we will see on the trade union movement to ensure that the industry is made safe.”

The department said the working group had come to believe the new Work Health and Safety Regulations due to be imposed in WA next year would help cover off many of the gaps the code couldn’t address.

“The regulations due to come in next year will impose much higher level duties than was provided for in the current draft of the diving code,” the spokeswoman said.

“WorkSafe will also conduct a substantial compliance program to improve safety and health conditions in diving.”

A diver is towed along by a boat while under the water

Paspaley Pearls is a major producer in Broome and has operated in the region since the 1930s.

Mr Whittle said from the union’s perspective, the regulations would do the job.

“We’re really hopeful that when those penalties, such as industrial manslaughter come into place, that there will be the ability for the regulator to take a firmer hand with the industry.”

Time wasting puts others at risk

Regardless, the Hamptons are frustrated it has taken the department nearly nine years to concede the divers’ code would not work in practice.

It was precious time they believe could have been better used to protect those in the industry currently.

“I can’t believe in this day and age that we don’t care enough for each human life that we haven’t acted more swiftly and with greater determination to create a change to make people safe … in a very, very dangerous type of occupation,” Ms Hampton said.

“I think what I hate most is being conditioned into patience … patience wasn’t one of my most valued qualities.

The Pearl Producers Association and Paspaley Pearls did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Posted , updated 

Jarrod’s parents fought for safer diving conditions for 9 years only for them to be quietly scrapped
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