While the game of Risk is that — simply a game — the concept of risk is not to be played with in aquatics.
You need to be proactive when it comes to risk.
“Risk management in aquatics is critical — even more so than in the other areas of campus rec — where it is already considered vital,” said Jack Jephson, the assistant director of aquatics for facilities and operations at Princeton University. “When it comes to how we approach risk, we try to do everything within reason to minimize the risk, not only to the university, but also the community of people who utilize our pools.”
Nicholas Knowles, the assistant director of facilities management, aquatics and sport clubs at Western Illinois University, said having a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is essential. But even more so, it must be accessible for all facility and aquatics staff to review it whenever the need arises.
While oftentimes determining an EAP or regulations starts with state guidelines, one can also view guidelines from organizations like the American Red Cross, National Swimming Pool Foundation, etc. “In terms of what is important to think about, I would say everything,” said Jephson. “Obviously, this is limited by time and resources, but the more or better we can be prepared will only help us in the long run and hopefully will ensure we never have a major incident we would have to learn from.”
Diving deeper into the areas of aquatics risk management, Knowles and Jephson both shared helpful insights on each:
At Princeton, all the lifeguards are contracted through a third party provider. While that leaves the third party responsible for vetting the personnel and training, it also limits the requirements Princeton can have for staff. But, as long as everyone is properly trained for the roles they’re filling, risk can be managed. “They have a ton of rules and regulations they need to follow that help limit risk,” shared Jephson.
Both facility staff and lifeguards conduct joint in-services so all are aware of their EAP requirements. Knowles also shared they conduct monthly in-services to review scenarios and practice emergencies.
In fact, he highly recommends surprising staff with training. That could mean putting a CPR mannequin in the bottom of the pool before a lifeguard’s shift to see how long it takes to be noticed, or testing them on scenarios and treading without prior preparation. “I believe the best way to train your staff is to have audits when they are not expecting them,” he said.
Knowles also suggested quizzing lifeguards on how to use all ADA accessible equipment, as well as creating and using an index of cards in the hip packs that clearly state what to do should a risk management scenario arise.
Pool rules are in place for all users of the facilities, shared Jephson. “New Jersey is known for having one of the strictest bathing codes in the country, so that sets the groundwork for requirements of what we have to do safety wise,” he said.
But, it’s getting users aware of those rules that is the issue. Knowles said signage is critical to operating a facility. “We have signage designated for the following areas in our facility: sauna, pool, hot tub and the aqua climbing wall,” he explained. “Clearly written/painted signage in the pool showing depth is critical … It is important to have clear information for the user/patron.”
Cleanliness is key, especially in pool areas where diseases can develop due to the environment. “We would like to keep the facility as clean as we possibly can, and the pool deck is a critical area,” said Jephson. “Making sure we are using products that are not only clean, but also disinfect is one of the major keys to make sure the deck is sanitary.”
For Knowles, it’s knowing who is tasked with the upkeep. “Our facility management department is in charge of the upkeep and cleanliness of our pool, hot tub and sauna,” he shared.
When it comes to the water itself, handling and how to add chemicals is critical. At Princeton, they use Buckman’s Inc. to get the job done. “We use nothing but top-of-the-line products/companies to make sure this is done in the safest way possible,” said Jephson. “This involves everything from who we purchase through, how the delivery goes, how they access the facilities, who is allowed to handle these products, where chemicals are stored, what personal protective equipment is required, etc.”
All in all, when it comes down to risk management, the best way to manage it is proactively.