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Supplement Feature - October 2017

Thrills & Spills

Risk Management for Waterparks & Splash Parks

By Deborah L. Vence


Millions of people a year visit waterparks to experience the thrill of plunging down a steep waterslide, to try out the latest water movements at a splash play area or just to hang out in the lazy river and soak up the sun.

In fact, more than 1,000 commercial and municipal waterparks exist in the United States today. And, more than 80 million people visit U.S. waterparks every year, according to information from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

So, with that many people in attendance each year, keeping the water safe is a major responsibility.

"Waterpark safety issues range from water-borne illness concerns to aquatic safety and lifeguarding/slide dispatch processes, clear water quality, proper and relevant signage, clear, concise safety communication (especially as it relates to slide dispatch) as well as non-water-related issues (foodborne illness, infrastructure and physical plant deficiencies, security, etc.)," said Mike Friscia, president of Innovative Attraction Management LLC, a Windermere, Fla.-based turnkey attraction management and aquatic risk prevention company.

Keeping Water Safe

With water being the main attraction and vehicle for waterparks and splash park areas, ensuring safety is crucial.

"There are obvious ways to achieve this objective. Specifically, utilize a water sanitation system that incorporates automation, innovation and technology. Unfortunately, investing in mechanical systems is sometimes minimized for facilities as cost and expense dollars are scarce," Friscia said.

With safe, clean, clear water being the No. 1 priority, having the ability to automate how water is sanitized minimizes the risk for water-borne illnesses, whether the system uses chlorine, bromine or some other system. In addition, many entities are mandating secondary sanitation on bodies of water, especially in areas frequented by children.

"A strong chemical control system, proper checks and balances from a maintenance perspective, and high-functioning filtration equipment saves both money and time on the front end, and allows for the safest aquatic environment for guests, patrons and employees," Friscia said.

Franceen Gonzales, a National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) board member and executive vice president of business development for a Canadian-based company that designs and manufactures attractions for the waterpark and amusement industries, said, "Whatever form water play comes in, it should be encouraged without too many rules so kids can innovate and exercise creativity. Yet, we still want them to be safe.

"Some high-priority safety considerations that can be implemented without impacting the fun of water play," she noted, include the following: "Running can cause trips and falls, resulting in injury. Every effort should be made to prevent running. Shooting water at close range to the face or sensitive parts of the body is not OK."

Meanwhile, the goal of the American Red Cross is for "everyone to have a fun and safe visit when they go to a waterpark or splash play area," said Nichole Steffens, national aquatic product manager for the American Red Cross.

Some important steps to help make that happen, she noted, include the following suggestions for those who patronize aquatic facilities:

  • Designate a water watcher to actively supervise young children; keep young children and non-swimmers within an arms-reach at all times. A child can drown wherever there's water (even in a bathtub or bucket of water) so parents and caregivers must be vigilant—even at a splash play area. Don't let your guard down just because the water is extremely shallow.
  • Shower with soap before entering the water or splash play area to help prevent the spread of recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are caused by germs and chemicals found in the water we swim in. They are spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, waterparks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans.
  • Take frequent bathroom breaks and change diapers in the bathroom or designated changing area (away from the water) to help prevent the spread of RWIs. If someone has diarrhea, they should not swim or play in the splash play area.
  • Always protect yourself and your family from the sun by using layers of protection including sunscreen (with at least SPF 30), limiting sun exposure when the sun is the strongest (take a break from the sun by going indoors, under an umbrella or in a shady area) and wear hats and protective clothing.

Information from the CDC website revealed that with splash play areas becoming more common, people might not realize that although there is no standing water, the spray water will rinse any contaminants (such as diarrhea, vomit or dirt) down into the water holding area and be sprayed again. The water is recycled through the system. And, as a result, it is possible for the water to become contaminated and make people sick.

So, as with swimming pools, splash play areas need just as much attention. Waterpark operators need to be diligent about ensuring that recirculated water is safe and should maintain proper chlorine levels.