Swimming Pool Safety
According to The National Drowning Report 2009*, 302 people drowned in Australia between July 2008 and June 2009.
Of those 302, 41 drowned in swimming pools. The report also indicated that children aged between 0-17 fall within the most vulnerable category. This is a disturbing statistic for principals and teachers who are often faced with the challenge of managing and supervising swimming lessons.
Of course drowning is not the only potential hazard to consider at swimming pools. The combination of wet and slippery surfaces, chemicals and excited children, makes for a fairly risky combination of events that can result in anything from slips and falls through to sunstroke and chemical burns.
As the warmer months of spring and summer are approaching, many schools and colleges are preparing to gear up their swim programs for another year. Regardless of whether schools and colleges manage their own pools on campus or contract the services of their local swimming pool, there are certain foreseeable risks they have to consider.
Whilst organisations may not be able to eliminate risks completely, the implementation of a risk management approach to pool safety can assist in reducing the risks associated with swimming pools and swimming activities.
Taking a risk management approach
Before you can manage your risks, you first need to identify what they are. Some common risks associated with pools include but are not limited to:
- a lack of or inadequate fencing and gates,
- insufficient warning or prohibition signage,
- wet and slippery surfaces,
- poor water quality,
- untrained lifeguards,
- insufficient supervision, and
- uncovered water filters.
A good way of addressing identified risks is to undertake a risk assessment, taking into account the following:
- exposure – i.e. how often people are exposed to the risk,
- how likely the risk is to occur - i.e. likely/unlikely, and
- the potential severity of the risk – i.e. death/injury, large financial impact/minimal financial impact
Once staff have identified and assessed the risks, they will need to implement some basic risk control measures around each risk. Even though the type and quantity of controls required will vary depending on individual circumstances, some common risk controls include, but are not limited to the following:
Pool facility managers are required to ensure that pool facilities, pool management and maintenance are compliant with local council requirements and state/territory legislation. There are many Australian standards and guidelines applicable to pools that cover fences, safety, heating systems, water quality, safety covers etc. Schools should ensure they comply with the relevant standards and guidelines.
- We recommend that schools who own pools develop and maintain a pool operations manual as per the Royal Life Saving Society’s Guidelines for Safe Pool Operations (GSPO).
- Ensure that adequate life guards/bronze medallion holders are provided in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia.
- Make sure safety signs are installed in accordance with the Guidelines for Safe Pool Operation and the National Aquatic and Recreational Signage Style Manual.
- Pool gates and fences should adhere to local and state government requirements and the following Australian standards: AS 1926.1 – 2007 Swimming Pool Safety – Safety barriers for swimming pools; AS 1926.2 - 2007 Swimming pool safety – location of safety barriers for swimming pools; and AS 2820-1993 Gate units for private swimming pools.
- Make certain that pool facilities (such as diving blocks and pool depth) are designed to comply with the GSPO. For existing pools that were built prior to the GSPO, identify, assess and implement controls for risks associated with the facilities. Develop plans to upgrade facilities that do not comply with the GSPO and Australian standards.
- Ensure that pool water quality is maintained in accordance with the GSPO and relevant Australian standards.
- Make sure all pool plant rooms and chemicals are secured. Ensure chemicals are stored and used in accordance with the state/territory legislation and material safety data sheets are provided where hazardous or dangerous substances are used.
- Ensure that staff are trained in the safe use of chemicals and ensure personal protective equipment is provided and worn as required.
- Ensure any electrical installation or work is conducted away from water and swimming pools.
- Develop and document emergency management procedures for potential emergency scenarios in accordance with the GSPO.
- Institute a maintenance and inspection program and conduct regular proactive inspections of your pool facility to ensure hazards and defects are identified and managed effectively.
- Engage Royal Life Saving Society of Australia to conduct an “aquatic facility safety assessment” of the pool and surrounding facilities on an annual basis.
Contracts and agreements
- Where schools hire out their pool to external parties or loan/hire facilities from external service providers, they should develop a letter of agreement/contract to outline all responsibilities.
- Further to the first aid and lifesaving ratios, schools also need to provide adequate staff to supervise students during swimming activities.
- Ensure student supervision ratios of teachers are at least in accordance with Catholic Education Office and or state/territory education department guidelines and also take into consideration the special needs of students, age of students, swimming ability of students etc.
- Ensure adequate first aid and rescue equipment are provided for swimming activities in accordance with the GSPO.
- Request all students to bring their own sunscreen and remind students to reapply as required.
- Schools conducting “learn to swim” programs should adhere to the Guidelines for Water Safety in Commercial Learn to Swim and School Pools by Royal Life Saving Association of Australia.
- Staff instructing swimming must hold appropriate qualifications.
- Swimming programs should be tailored to the range of student swimming abilities. Students and parents should be notified of the swimming program, with a survey of the swimming abilities reported to the school.
- Students should be adequately trained and deemed as a competent swimmer prior to being allowed to dive from diving blocks. Students should be adequately supervised whilst using the diving blocks.
- Educate students on the use of personal protective equipment whilst swimming such as goggles, caps and ear plugs where required.
Monitoring and Review
It is important that schools and colleges do not forget the final component – monitoring and review. Schools and colleges should implement a regular monitoring and review process to ensure that risk controls are adequate and to keep an eye out for any additional risks that may present from time to time.
The long-term benefits of implementing thorough and diligent risk management practices far outweigh the costs of exposing students and staff to unnecessary risks. By carrying out such practices, you can uphold reputations, reduce expenditure and most importantly save lives.
*The National Drowning Report 2009, Royal Life Saving Society – Australian National Branch, Australia 2009.