With the arrival of summer break, campus recreation departments are preparing camp programs for youth participants. For many, the most popular offerings will be water-based activities. However, there are many pool dangers camp staff must watch for to ensure the safety of all visitors.
Wesley King, the owner and founder of Wesley King Consulting, has trained thousands of lifeguards over his career as an aquatics consultant. When it comes to managing hazards, he said to understand your best practices and to have a recognizable playbook.
“Think about what you are not going to allow,” said King. “The more things you are ensuring to prevent will then add up to safety. Find ways to support your aquatics team. I have been doing this since 1995. If I can’t get someone else to believe support exists, then they will quit the industry. Provide that confidence for your staff. They are the ones in the weeds doing the hard work. Focusing on the human aspect will help maintain emphasis on risks.”
With King’s advice in mind, here are five pool dangers to keep an eye on:
Drowning is considered the biggest risk factor. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported an average of 4,012 unintentional drowning deaths occurred each year from 2011–2020. Preventing these tragedies can be accomplished through strict supervision and rules, usage of proper safety equipment, and barriers to entry for small children.
However, did you know there is a specific type of drowning that’s considered to be a silent killer? Known as shallow water blackout, this condition occurs in only two minutes, opposed to regular drowning which takes six to eight minutes.
According to Shallow Water Blackout Prevention, shallow water blackout is an underwater faint due to a lack of oxygen to the brain brought on by holding your breath for long periods of time. Without immediate rescue, the swimmer quickly drowns. To prevent this, don’t allow breath-holding games, and instruct swimmers to never hyperventilate, ignore the urge to breathe or swim alone.
2. Bacterial Infections
Otherwise known as recreational water illnesses (RWIs), these infections can cause pool closures and bad publicity. So how do you best prevent RWIs from occurring without limiting access to the pool?
First, the CDC recommends properly educating staff through standardized testing. Certify they all know the critical role of water assessment, proper testing methods and how to respond if disinfectant levels are not adequate.
After checking your water quality, consider creating proper signage that directly prevents RWIs such as:
- Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
- Don’t swallow the pool water.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after using the restroom or changing diapers.
3. Drain Covers
Drowning can sometimes be the result of entrapment caused by the powerful suction of pool drains. While many children are taught to stay away from these drains located at the deepest parts of pools, that does not guarantee such circumstances will happen.
Per the ZAC Foundation, an organization established to prepare children and families for a lifetime of water safety, unsafe drains can come in various forms. There may be drains that don’t have any covers on them or shields that are faulty, both of which are extremely dangerous.
Safe drains have covers that are raised and usually dome-shaped. These also have smaller openings, which make it harder for things like hair and jewelry to get caught. When installed properly, these covers are the most effective way to protect from entrapment.
4. Slippery Areas
An array of injuries — bone fractures, concussions, cuts and sprains — can occur if one of your patrons slips and falls on the pool deck. While accidents do happen, you must ensure your facility is not negligent if a calamity occurs.
Keep surfaces free of pooled water as much as possible, consistently check that handrails, ladders and diving boards don’t need maintenance, and have proper signage encouraging no running and that points out hazardous areas.
Finally, create rules and practices to ensure lifeguards are concentrated on patrolling the waters. We live in a time when distractions are all around us. However, many potential interruptions are caused by our cell phones.
Make it a strict guideline that no phones are allowed while staff and lifeguards are on the clock. Remember to also consider other distractions like Apple Watches, books or conversations with other people — all of which could lead to a detrimental lack of focus.
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