Feature Article - April 2007
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Risky Business

Critical Safety Issues for Aquatic Facilities

By Joseph Ryan

What sign?

Let's say you have lifeguards and you train them well, you've protected against entrapment dangers and your facility is secure at night. What then is the next most important safety element in your pool?


"If you sign with good warning colors and shapes in a logical sequence, you have a better chance of preventing those catastrophic issues," said Tom Griffiths, Penn State's aquatics director and athletic safety officer, and founder of Aquatic Safety Research Group.

But Griffiths has done some of his own studies that show that signs only have about 3 to 5 seconds to get their point across to readers. He suggests limiting the number of signs in a given area, but making sure you hit all the important points.

Meanwhile, Ebro argues the more signs, the better.

"You have to inform," he said. "It is not the lifeguard's function to inform."

Regardless, all signs should be sure to follow the universally accepted form: attention-grabbing colors and size, statement of a rule and then statement and depiction of a consequence for breaking the rule.

They also must be displayed in a prominent place. For example, general "No Diving" signs are written in red on the edges of a pool. They include the conveyance of a rule, and they depict a hurt head to explain the consequence of breaking the rule.

"If you know the thing you perceive as harmless is not, then you won't do it," Ebro reasoned.

Signs also need to be prioritized, with "No Smoking" signs getting less play than signs that warn against running.

Mike Fijas, Raging Waves general manager, said that some of the more basic rules should be spelled out in a "Code of Conduct" board that every patron sees before entering the pool area. Rules on the board would govern behaviors like swearing, smoking and drinking, among others.

"The facility has every right to expect certain things of a guest," Fijas said. "It should say, 'Enjoy yourself, but here are a few rules.'"

Who drowns?

In 2004, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 3,308 people drowned in the United States.

  • 78 percent of drowning incidents involve males.
  • 23 percent were children under the age of 14.
  • Nearly 500 children under the age of 4 drowned, with 300 being boys.
  • Alcohol use is involved in between 25 percent and 50 percent of adolescent and adult drowning deaths.

Note: These CDC results do not include boating-related incidents, but do include drowning incidents at private pools, in bathtubs and in natural bodies of water.