Feature Article - July 2012
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Wet Your Whistle

Improving Aquatic Safety and Aquatic Management

By Kelli Ra Anderson

It Takes a Village

There's another vital player, however, who also needs to be trained about aquatic safety: parents and caregivers. "Supervision is certainly not to be overlooked, but parents and caregivers need constant reminders about watching their kids," said Kathleen Reilly, pool and spa campaign leader and public affairs specialist with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "This goes for residential and commercial pools where parents think a lifeguard on duty means everyone can relax. They should be watching their children at pools, which are often very crowded, whether or not they can swim."

Teaching parents and caregivers about the signs of drowning, the essentials of drain cover safety and about swimming safety takes many forms. From videos for lifeguards and families about safety tips offered by Reilly's organization, to water safety classes or training tagged onto the end of swimming and membership classes, many facilities are finding ways to educate their patrons to become part of the safety solution.

"One of the communities I work in had water safety awareness week and provided free classes like the Red Cross program," said Yarger, about the community's response to having one of the highest drowning rates in the country. "We found out that if we charged a nominal fee, however, the numbers of people attending went up. The idea of 'free' meant the equivalent of worthless."

Not only should parents and caregivers be educated to be on the offensive, but pool managers need to go on the offensive as well. "They should also ask a lot of questions of caregivers who are going to take daycare groups to the pool," said Terri Lees, member of American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Committee and a community center aquatic supervisor. "Drownings happen to children who are new to a facility and in groups where caregivers, teachers or camp counselors have not been trained to supervise the kids around the water. Managers should take an active role in educating patrons and guards about these issues and have rules in place that discourage lapses in supervision by staff, parents or caregivers."

Lees' no-nonsense approach to the community center where she is the aquatic supervisor includes enforcing protocols such as requiring specific numbers of caregiving supervisors on deck and in the water with groups of children and requires that they be within arm's length of any child with a flotation device; those who do not comply are asked to leave.

Of course, educating patrons about what is expected also requires clear communication. "Avoid problems by signage and by offering classes for swimming," said Steve White, CSP, CST water quality management trainer with Underwater Pool Masters and education director with the American Pool and Spa Association (APSA). "Young participants who fall into a safe, clean pool and have training from the beginning is key."

Clear as Mud

But even if an entire village has been equipped to recognize the signs, no amount of skill will matter if poor water clarity keeps vigilant eyes from seeing what's happening just inches below. With drowning the second leading cause of death or injury according to the CDC for persons aged 1 to 14, 90 percent of those in 2003 were under supervision when they died. And while there are many variables to these scenarios, water clarity plays a significant role.

Water clarity has been and remains an ongoing issue for operators as a result of the differing standards and regulations around the country.

"Just Google 'drowning/cloudy water' and you'll be horrified at news articles that come back where victims are a result of not being able to be seen," said Terry Arko, CPSO, author, educator and technical consultant specializing in chemical water treatment and board-serving member of the APSP. "In one recent case, they even cleared a pool because of cloudiness and only then discovered someone had drowned."