Reducing Drowning Risk at Your Pool – A Comprehensive Approach

Reducing drowning risk at your pool is a task that requires considering many layers of protection. A comprehensive analysis of your aquatic facility can identify opportunities for safety improvements

In the United States drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1-4. Drowning rates among older children and adults also produce staggering statistics. If you operate a swimming pool, there are multiple ways to reduce drowning risks. Each serves as an important layer in protecting your patrons.

Parental Supervision – Reducing drowning risk at your pool begins with appropriate supervision from parents and guardians. Make sure they’re aware of their role in drowning prevention with well-communicated rules and enforced expectations poolside.

Best Practice – Parents and guardians should be in the water, within arms-reach of non-swimmers. Effectively relaying that message relies on well-written rules that are consistently enforced by all staff. Exception to any rule will decrease it’s value. Work with your lifeguards and aquatic staff and regularly roleplay rule enforcement scenarios.

Lifeguard Supervision – Lifeguards are critical line of drowning defense. They serve as the extra set of eyes, tasked with protecting the safety of all swimmers. When emergencies do happen, lifeguards are well-trained first responders providing needed critical care ahead of advanced medical professionals. In water submersion scenarios their early intervention can greatly reduce the severity of injury.

Best Practice – Lifeguards are focused on their prime directive – effective scanning. They are not distracted by auxiliary tasks. They are well-trained not only in observation techniques, but also in quick-response rescues. In order to achieve this, they regularly practice their skills during in-service training sessions.

Lifeguards are most effective when their attention is not devoted to individual swimmers. Their role is to supervise all patrons, not just a select few. Great facilities communicate this effectively to parents, who can watch their individual children.

When paired with diligent parental supervision lifeguards have a tremendous opportunity to decrease the risk of drowning at public pools.

Rules – A safe pool needs to have strong rules. Rules are set to protect the safety and well-being of all swimmers and many are focused on reducing risk of submersion and drowning events.

Best Practice  – State code compliance is a great place to begin developing your poolside rules, but the regulations shouldn’t stop there. Industry research notes new dangers poolside and diligent incident reporting will identify gaps in your risk management plan. A comprehensive approach to rules can make any pool safer. Click here for more information on developing a comprehensive set of pool rules.

Swim Tests –  Swim tests help identify weak swimmers and add additional protection-based protocols to their swim. Once identified, non-swimmers and / or weak swimmers may have area access restrictions imposed on their swim. These restrictions limit their pool activities to situations that are less likely to require a rescue.

Best Practice – Many pools use a deep end test to determine if swimmers are allowed in certain sections of the pool (often referred to as a Deep End Test). If a swimmer cannot pass a strict evaluation of their swimming skills (example: one length front crawl, one length backstroke, 60 second tread water) they are not allowed in a certain area of the pool. Deep or hazardous areas often separated and delineated by a float line and drop-off paint stripe at the bottom of the pool.

Others facilities opt for a swim tests that identifies swimmers who need to be accompanied by adults in the pool. If a swimmer cannot pass a structured evaluation (or if they require any type of floatation device) they are required to be within arms-reach of a parent or guardian.

Limited Use of Equipment – Pool toys and swim equipment can present hidden dangers at poolside. Floats such as noodles, kickboard and pull buoys make deep water more accessible to non-swimmers.

Best Practice – Floating equipment serves many purposes poolside, but should be closely controlled. The best pools quickly put away their equipment when it is not in official programming use. Instructors and coaches in charge of swim teams, swim lessons and aquatic group exercise classes are closely aware of their equipment. Pool managers identify their programming equipment and clearly separate it from toys allowed during free swim periods. Outside tools, toys and floats are strictly prohibited.

Swimming Lessons – Learn to swim programming can dramatically reduce individual risk of drowning. Access to swimming lessons directly correlates with reduced likelihood of aquatic injury and death associated with unintentional submersion.

Best Practice – If you have a pool, you have a wonderful community resource. Consider the opportunity to open your facility up to non-swimmers for quarterly educational programs. Low or no-cost swimming lessons can serve as a community outreach event which may introduce your ongoing services to new prospects.

Note that drowning rates are higher in urban and rural areas. If your facility serves these communities you have a great opportunity to impact children and adults who are more likely to need your services.

Barriers to Entry and Covers – Many drowning or near-drowning events happen to children who were not supposed to be in or around the water. Preventing access to swimming facilities is critical in lessening your drowning risk. Fences, gates and barriers to entry are set up to keep children away from pools. These areas should follow all building code and health department regulations.

Best Practice – Top facilities inspect their barriers to entry on a daily basis. Issues are immediately corrected and documented. Approved safety covers are installed at outdoor pools during their off-season.

Layperson CPR Training – Not all swimming pools have trained lifeguards on deck. Well trained layperson responders can have a positive impact on victim outcomes if they know CPR, or have been trained to use an available AED.

Best Practice – Aquatic facilities often have affiliations with first aid, CPR and AED trainers. These contacts can be leveraged as a wonderful community resource. Consider expanding your program catalog to include community-oriented first aid programs. If your facility does not have aquatic personnel and lifeguards other staff members should be designated as trained first responders in the event of an aquatic emergency.

Rescue Equipment – Properly functioning rescue equipment may make a life or death difference in the event of an accidental submersion. State bather codes regulate what equipment is to be available at public bathing facilities.

Best Practice – AED’s and emergency phones are well labeled and regularly checked to assure their proper working order. Ring buoys and reaching poles are available as described in the state code to assist layperson first responders who may need to assist a swimmer in distress.

Home Pool Safety

Drowning and aquatic deaths are not limited to commercial facilities. Many submersion events happen at home.

Best Practice – Homes that feature residential pools should consider the aforementioned levels of protection. Home pools are safest when they feature four-sided fencing (they are not attached to an exit/entry point from the home). Residential pools owners should consider wave-sensor alarms, swimming lessons for children, strict supervision protocols and layperson CPR training for parents.