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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

Scuba Clean threatened by numerous violations, not solely because it didn't hire lifeguard

In a television ad, Republican Jeff Brandes touts his ability to save jobs in Florida House District 52 with the story of a boat cleaning company threatened with closure by over-the-top government regulation.

"Small business is where the jobs are, like a 30-year-old boat cleaning business employing 18 people," says Brandes, standing near a pier. "But their jobs are on the line, all because government essentially says if they don't hire a lifeguard to watch their workers, they can't stay open. Even when the water's only a few feet deep."

But is the government really forcing a business to hire a lifeguard or shut down?

The case involves Scuba Clean Inc., a St. Petersburg company that this year was cited for 19 violations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company faces more than $200,000 in penalties.

OSHA did indeed demand that the company hire a trained tender to watch over divers for safety, and the fine for that violation is $49,000. A tender is similar to a lifeguard but with much more extensive training.

Owner Phil Secord disputed the violations and contested the fines, and said he is closing his company over the citations. He laid off at least one worker.

The three most serious fines stemmed from allegations that the company had workers in the water who weren't trained under the standards for commercial diving, and for using air through a line from the surface without a tender. However, there were 16 other unrelated violations alleged, including the company not having a supervisor on site, not having written safety procedures and equipment, and improper storage of chlorine and other chemicals.

Secord indeed said the government is killing him with unneeded regulation. He said his divers mostly clean boats in waters 4 to 6 feet deep at marinas. Employing a tender would be unnecessary and expensive, he said.

It is true that OSHA rules don't discriminate between people cleaning boats in shallow water and commercial divers who work in deep water, according to commercial diving trainers.

"It's not a gray area. It's cut and dry. And it's a federal regulation," said Geoff Thielst, a 30-year commercial diver and program director of marine technology training at Santa Barbara City College.

But Brandes said the business was threatened "all because" Scuba Clean didn't hire a lifeguard — the tender. The bulk of the alleged violations involved training of divers, equipment and safety practices, not just the absence of a lifeguard.

Therefore, we rule this claim Half True.

The statement

Company may close, "all because government essentially says if they don't hire a lifeguard to watch their workers, they can't stay open."

Jeff Brandes, Sept. 26, 2010 in a campaign video.

The ruling

But Brandes said the business was threatened "all because" Scuba Clean didn't hire a lifeguard — the tender. The bulk of the alleged violations and fines that have put this business' future in doubt involved training of divers, equipment and safety practices, not just the absence of a lifeguard. Therefore, we rule this claim Half True.

Scuba Clean threatened by numerous violations, not solely because it didn't hire lifeguard 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:40pm]
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