Feature Article - February 2004
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In the Swim

The Best Strategies for Aquatic Center Peak Performance

By Kim Tobin

Another key to helping decrease drowning accidents is water quality.

"Having clear water is absolutely critical so lifeguards can do their job," Schwartz says. "The right-sized filters, pump systems, good recirculation and gutter systems are crucial to making that all work. It's also a problem when paint coating dissolves and clouds the water. It can settle out overnight, but when people are in the pool using it, they can stir it up and decrease visibility. Most of the time, the right way to do it is not painting over the coating that exists but to drain the pool, take the bad coating off and put good coating on, for safety's sake."

In addition to clear water, swimmers need to see clear, defined depth markings and the unit in which the depth is measured, as well as pool bottom lines to help them better judge a pool's depth.

Diving clearances are another focal point when it comes to safety. While there are no universal standards, many states have their own regulations, as well as organizations that have developed their own standards. It's a matter of research and due diligence to arrive at the right answer for a facility's standards. Often, diving competence and the type of facility will also be a factor.

"In recreational facilities, clearances need to be deeper than competitive swimming facilities' standards because competitive swimmers and divers are trained and coached," Schwartz says. "The injury profile is of someone who hasn't been at a pool before, who is generally enjoying themselves too much and showing off."

It's crucial to stay current with local regulations and what a state allows as well.

"There should be no diving, no matter how deep, unless a depth is recognized and accepted by your state health department," Mittelstaedt adds. "The manager needs to find out what's appropriate in the areas in accordance with the governing jurisdiction."

Also on the competitive swimming side, pools may be constructed to accommodate starting blocks at the shallow end of the pool, which can be exceedingly dangerous for a non-trained diver. Dive standards from several national and many high-school interscholastic associations recently changed, moving from a 3.5-foot standard to an 8-foot-depth recommendation.

In many instances, facility managers have responded by moving blocks from their shallow ends to their deep ends. It should not be a permanent solution, however. In older pools, the deep end may not even be deep enough for diving boards. Costs can move up if timing systems, diving boards or other structural changes outside of the pool need to be upgraded along with moving the blocks.

"Moving dive blocks are only an interim measure until a new pool is built or the program is eliminated," Mittelstaedt says.

Other industry experts say part of the issue surrounding diving dangers lies in teaching correct diving techniques.

"The Red Cross recommends not teaching diving unless a facility has nine feet of water," says Robert Clayton, Ed.D., president of Aquatic Partners, a risk management consulting and education firm in Ft. Collins, Colo. "It's a great idea, but most pools don't have that depth. So, people then take out their diving boards. That doesn't solve the problem because people will still dive. If we don't teach people to dive correctly, we're still going to have the accidents."

Clayton explains that the answer to improving diving techniques lies in what happens after a swimmer hits the water. Keeping your arms out in front of the head, or "steering up" as the technique is called, can help lessen injury potential.

"People go under water, and as soon as they hit the water, they pull their hands back," he says. "It exposes their heads and leaves them vulnerable to injury. Anywhere diving is allowed, you'll find that about 75 percent of people dive that way. The safer way is to teach you to keep your hands straight out in front of you, over your ears, until you start your ascent. In the pools I'd run, I'd permit diving only if it was done that way."

In addition to drowning and diving, the mix of water and electricity at pools is another potentially deadly hazard that warrants key precautions.

"Electrocution is still a huge concern," Schwartz says. To combat it, he recommends the use of low voltage lights, UL-listed fixtures and correct bonding procedures.

Bonding (which is the connecting of all metal parts in a pool facility to a common copper wire buried in the ground, that is in turn connected to reinforcing steel in a structure) is essential, according to Schwartz. It reduces voltage gradience throughout the facility, which reduces the risk of being shocked.

"At any aquatic facility, there are a lot of metal parts people touch," Schwartz says. "Everything needs to be connected to a bonding system to keep it safe. Some facilities can become lax and not pay as much attention to doing it properly (especially if repair work is being done or during the construction phase), but it's crucial to safety."