Pool Safety First


If you’re involved with the operations of a pool, a proactive approach to problems is essential. At least, that’s what Jason Dillon, the associate aquatics director at University of California, San Diego, tries to do when overseeing operations of the university’s aquatics facility.

“Our industry has thankfully been preventative focused since I’ve been in the business [18 years],” said Dillon. “We want to make sure we put a stop to unsafe behaviors before they become more serious. So a lot of the best practices come down to great initial and ongoing training for your staff.”

Dillon gave examples of best practices for your staff to ensure the maximum amount of safety in your facility:

  • Make sure staff know all of the facility’s rules, along with the reasons behind them.
  • Ensure staff checks to make certain their skills remain high through their own personal physical fitness.
  • Do monthly skills training — audit drills where, for example, you create a drowning, CPR/first aid scenario to put your staff’s skills to the test in a controlled environment.
  • Maintain a minimum of two guards. Another good rule of thumb is having one for every 25 swimmers. This can help ensure if a rescue needs to happen, you have the right amount of staff to respond appropriately.

Dillon said some of the most frequent worries when overseeing an aquatic facility include: slips and falls on the wet pool deck; swimmers diving into the shallow end or on top of another swimmer; a young, inexperienced swimmer moving from the shallow end to the deep end; and anything electrical being plugged in less than 10 feet away from the pool.

Last but not least, one of the biggest concerns in the industry today is shallow water blackout — an underwater faint due to lack of oxygen. “It’s something that’s getting huge attention today,” said Dillon. “It’s the No. 1 killer of healthy athletic swimmers, and it’s resulted in many pools, including our own, banning the use of breath-holding activities while in water.”

Some safety precautions are mandated by the health department, explained Dillon, like the minimum amount of chlorine in your water and the requirement for the bottom of public swimming pools to be white — to help lifeguards see a drowning swimmer. But there are more considerations your facility needs to keep in mind in regards to both design and functionality of the pool.

Some of these considerations include lighting, placement of lifeguard stations and HVAC systems. “If you have programming at night, you need to think about lighting for your pool, both in the water and above it,” said Dillon. “Every fun aquatic attraction — fountains, slides — all potentially start to limit lifeguards’ abilities to scan the water, so require creative lifeguard stations to prepare for emergencies in those areas. For indoor pools, a great HVAC system is essential for moving fresh air into the building, and getting rid of chloramines that are the main culprit of eye burn and that smell we all associate with chlorine.”


  1. Avatar

    Bob pratt

    November 20, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Overall this is a great article.
    However I question your assertion that SWB is the “No. 1 killer of healthy athletic swimmers”. Do you have a source for this statistic?

    • Heather Hartmann

      Heather Hartmann

      November 20, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Bob! Thanks for asking! We’re going to have to follow up with Jason Dillion from the University of California, San Diego on this one to see where he got that stat. Stay tuned!

    • Heather Hartmann

      Heather Hartmann

      November 22, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Hi Bob! Here is where Jason was pulling his information from: http://www.aquaticsafetygroup.com/ShallowWaterBlackout.html

  2. Avatar

    Bob Pratt

    November 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Thank you. I’ve looked at the web page and cannot find a study that supports SWB as the #1 cause. Did I miss it? There is no doubt it is a common cause. Calling it THE MOST common without evidence that backs up that claim is misleading.
    It’s not the first time I’ve seen this quoted but I’ve never seen the basis.
    If anyone can point to a study I’d be interested.
    Again, the gyst of the article is great, and I’m not being critical, just interested.

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