Feature Article - April 2004
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Safe and Swim

The best risk management practices for pool and waterpark safety

By Kim Tobin

Detection tools

While drowning prevention is a task that humans take seriously, it's being aided with the help of machines specifically designed for the task as well. New safety monitoring systems include underwater cameras that provide images of a pool bottom to help staff monitor bodies in the water, while others use motion detection that sets off an alarm if a swimmer is on the bottom for too long. With their role in providing additional drowning protection, the devices should always be just aids, however, and should never replace qualified, vigilant staff.

"It's an enhancement to reduce risk," adds Dave Schwartz, P.E., a licensed engineer and owner of Water's Edge Aquatic Design, an aquatic facility master-planning firm in Lenexa, Kan. "But, like any other device, you've got to use it correctly. If there are multiple pools, you have seconds to look for someone, and if you have to spend minutes looking for someone, that's an issue. The systems have applications for indoor facilities, where someone's not necessarily on deck all of the time but is in an office."

"The systems can be expensive, but not as much as a law suit," adds Robert D. Clayton, Ed.D., president of Aquatic Partners, a risk management consulting and education firm in Ft. Collins, Colo. "Although they're not very common yet, they are invaluable in sites like waterparks, where everyone has an inner tube, and you can't see the bottom. They can definitely help enhance safety in such situations."

They also can help with another glaring issue.

"Underwater surveillance is also desirable for indoor pools that have glare on the water (architects just love to put up glass sliding panels so that bathers can go outside and sun)," Clayton says. "Unfortunately, it means that glare obscures a large section of the pool. Lifeguards cannot see the bottom, and a person could be underwater until some swimmer or person looking from a different angle sees the victim."