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By David DeCamp October 28, 2010

Jeff Brandes says government regulations may close small business

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," Brandes says as he stands 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."

The screen flashes briefly to the words "Government: Do it our way or else."

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

The case in question involves Scuba Clean Inc., a St. Petersburg company that earlier 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, someone to stand watch over divers for safety, and the fine for that violation is $49,000. A tender is generally similar to a lifeguard but with much more extensive training.

Owner Phil Secord disputed the violations and contested the fines, but said he is closing his company over the citations. He laid off at least one worker, and turned over his customers to others who work as contract workers, he said.

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 said the government is indeed killing him with unneeded regulation. For example, he said his divers mostly clean boats in waters four to six feet deep at local marinas. Therefore, he said, employing a tender would be unnecessary and expensive. His case is headed to a Nov. 5 settlement hearing.

It is true that OSHA rules don’t discriminate between people cleaning boat hulls in shallow water and commercial divers who work in deep water to do underwater construction, 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 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. 

Our Sources

Interview, Geoff Thielst, director of marine technology training, Santa Barbara City College, Oct. 25, 2010

Interview, Michael Pauley, admissions representative and commerical diving instructor, Commercial Dive Academy International, Oct. 20, 2010

Interview and e-mail, Melik Ahmir-abdul, spokesman, U.S. Occupational Safety and HealthReview Commission, Oct. 21, 2010

Citation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, June 9, 2010

Citation, Occpational Safety and Health Administration, June 9, 2010

"St. Petersburg boat cleaning company cited for health and safety violations," St. Petersburg Times, by Kameel Stanley, June 11, 2010

"Commercial Diver Training -- Minimum Standards," American National Standards Institute, 2009

Jeff Brandes campaign TV ad "Scuba", Sept. 26, 2010

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