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Feature Story

February 2016


Restricting Diving May Have Little to Do With Preventing Injury, Study Says

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By Emily Tipping

Protecting patrons at the pool is important, but an overabundance of rules isn't necessarily the right approach, according to new research. When it comes to dives—and restricting what's allowed on the diving board—the rules don't necessarily have a big payoff, in terms of protecting people from injury, according to the Society for Risk Analysis.

Concerns about diving-related injuries began to rise after the 2008 publication of a study in Pediatrics, which estimated than between 1990 and 2006, 111,000 emergency room visits for children under the age of 19 were caused by various diving-related accidents. The most likely to be injured were children between 10 and 14 years old. However, 80 percent of these were from dive heights of one meter or less.

In the new study, "Board Diving Regulations in Public Swimming Pools and Risk of Injury," Dr. Dave Williams and Louise Odin of the School of Psychology and Sports Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, England, provide " a first and small step in an area popularly associated with risk, yet significantly under-researched." Their study appeared in the online version of the international journal Risk Analysis, a publication of the multidisciplinary Society for Risk Analysis.

"In a survey of public swimming pools in the United Kingdom, we found no link between the strictness of regulation and dive-related injury incidence in the previous 12 months," according to Williams. "The policy of permitting some dive forms while banning others in public diving sessions may be less effective than imagined because it may overlook people's natural tendency to attempt only that which they feel reasonably capable of achieving based upon their past experience."

Based on the research, Williams finds that a policy of barring some dives "may mistake that which appears risk-laden with genuine levels of risk, which are in fact relatively low in public swimming pools. It may also overlook the importance for the young of learning about risk in a managed setting."

The authors cite the health and other benefits kids gain from diving and swimming at public pools. For example, through pool activities, children improve their swimming skills, thereby reducing the potential for drowning. Diving also provides an opportunity for children to learn how "to face and deal with real risks in a supportive setting" and to acquire mastery over fearful situations, according to the authors.

In a second study, the authors compared perceptions about diving risks among 22 club divers and 22 non-divers and found a "significant difference in risk perception" and in "preference for regulation" based on diving experience. Experienced divers perceive less risk in a range of recreational activities, including diving, when compared with others, and also "prefer almost two more dive forms be allowed than is currently so in public pools when compared with novices."

The authors acknowledged that their study was limited and agreed that it " would be premature to suggest that individual swimming pools might revise regulations for public diving from this alone," but the findings still "might give pause for thought." Because divers appear to gauge the risks of certain dives based on their experience and act accordingly, "It is therefore important that regulation is proportionate and that pool managers do not inadvertently discourage engagement [in diving challenges] by applying arbitrary regulation whose effectiveness is open to question," Williams said.

For more information on the study, visit www.sra.org.


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