Decompressing Recompression Chamber Attendants: Oxygen vs Air Breathing

Research Paper Title

Decompressing recompression chamber attendants during Australian submarine rescue operations.


Inside chamber attendants rescuing survivors from a pressurised, distressed submarine may themselves accumulate a decompression obligation which may exceed the limits of Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine tables presently used by the Royal Australian Navy. This study assessed the probability of decompression sickness (PDCS) for medical attendants supervising survivors undergoing oxygen-accelerated saturation decompression according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 17.11 table.


Estimated probability of decompression sickness (PDCS), the units pulmonary oxygen toxicity dose (UPTD) and the volume of oxygen required were calculated for attendants breathing air during the NOAA table compared with the introduction of various periods of oxygen breathing.


The PDCS in medical attendants breathing air whilst supervising survivors receiving NOAA decompression is up to 4.5%. For the longest predicted profile (830 minutes at 253 kPa) oxygen breathing at 30, 60 and 90 minutes at 132 kPa partial pressure of oxygen reduced the air-breathing-associated PDCS to less than 3.1 %, 2.1% and 1.4% respectively.


The probability of at least one incident of DCS among attendants, with consequent strain on resources, is high if attendants breathe air throughout their exposure. The introduction of 90 minutes of oxygen breathing greatly reduces the probability of this interruption to rescue operations.


Reid, M.P., Fock, A. & Doolette, D.J. (2017) Decompressing recompression chamber attendants during Australian submarine rescue operations. Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine. 47(3):168-172.
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