Feature Article - February 2007
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

By Jessic Royer Ocken

More Suggestions for a Safe Pool

"The deck is a concern," said Joe Carter, director of university recreation for Appalachian State University. "Be sure you have the proper slope so drainage is appropriate." Despite your best efforts to keep things clean and dry, if you don't have the right drainage and deck materials and have them properly installed, you'll be fighting a losing battle against slippery puddles.

"You must always have a lifeguard on duty every hour the pool is open for any program," said John Spannuth, CEO of the U.S. Water Fitness Association. "Instructors do not replace your need for a lifeguard. A water fitness instructor may be certified as a lifeguard, but that doesn't hack it [while they're teaching] because that's not what they're doing right then. A lifeguard should be only a lifeguard."

Even in shallow water or sprayparks, keep an eye on kids. "Children age 4 and under have a higher rate of death by drowning than any other age group," according to the National Safety Council. "In 2002, nearly 2,700 kids age 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for drowning-related incidents." Fences may provide some security, but nothing replaces active supervision.

"We allow no glass in the student recreation center at all," Carter said. "Glass can be dangerous to the pool. You have to drain the whole thing [if glass gets in] because it's hard to get out of the water."

Even if your facility offers shallow-water recreation, encourage participants to learn to swim. "The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim—this includes adults and children," according to the American Red Cross.

In May 2006, Safe Kids Worldwide published the results of its national study on entrapment and other drowning dangers. While drain entrapment is relatively rare, "from 1985 to 2004, at least 33 children ages 14 and under died as a result of entrapment in a pool or spa drain," the organization reported. "Entrapment occurs when part of a child's body becomes attached to a drain as a result of the powerful suction of the water circulation system, or an arm or leg is inserted into a drain with a missing or broken cover." This can result in a serious injury or even death, as the strength of the child, or even of an adult attempting to help, may not be great enough to overcome the pool's suction. "Entrapment deaths can also occur when a child's hair or swimsuit gets tangled in the drain or on an underwater object, such as a ladder," noted the study.

To combat these dangers, be sure to place anti-entrapment drain covers on all openings, and monitor drain covers as a regular part of pool or spa maintenance so those that are loose or broken can be replaced immediately. If you're building a new facility, including more than one drain for each pool or hot tub and installing a safety vacuum release as part of your system are other ways of avoiding this problem. See www.safekids.org for information on this and other safety topics.