Feature Article - January 2015
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Safer Waters for All

MAHC Created to Improve Pool Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Connie Harvey, director, Aquatics Centennial Initiatives at the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., said the biggest thing that's happening is that everybody understands that there are layers of protection in preventing drownings.

"There is a lot of effort in different initiatives that highlight and make those or provide access to those layers of protection," she said. "When we talk about our Centennial campaign, the learn-to-swim aspect is important, but others are just as important, including water safety education for partners and caregivers."

For example, choices have to be made and a level of supervision has to take place on whether or not to put a child in a life jacket.

"So, that is a critical piece of it; to make parents and caregivers [be a part of] the prevention side. But, then the swimming lessons are a critical piece to it all. Also, there's what to do in the event something goes wrong. Inviting parents to teach them how to help themselves in the water and what kind of equipment you should have on hand," Harvey said.

Moreover, facilities are tackling drowning prevention by offering a one-week session of lessons. They know that children need to know how to swim. And, some facilities are using special bands that children can wear on their wrists to distinguish which children know how to swim and which ones don't. Some are even opting to do a swim test to see how well they are able to swim.

"What we have defined as water competency, [if someone] has the green band it allows them to swim in the deeper end. Someone in the red band is required to stay in the shallow end of the water. Many YMCAs do that as well," Harvey said.

"A lot of facilities are starting to adopt our definition of water competency," she added.

For example, the testing might involve having to float on your back or tread water, and be able to orient in a complete circle and swim 25 yards. Also, you have to be able to get into a pool and get out without using a ladder.

"There is a sequence of skills [to show] that someone can handle themselves in the water," she said.

Also, Harvey discussed the Red Cross' Circle of Drowning Prevention, which states the following:
  • Provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising in or near water.
  • Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing.
  • Learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers and boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Griffiths added that it is equally important to make sure everyone at a pool is aware of non-swimmers.

"We really push situational awareness in making everyone in the facility aware of the non-swimmers. And what many pools do, even if they don't require the life jacket, they either use very attractive quick-release necklaces for intermediate swimmers and non-swimmers, or bands on the wrist, which allows parents to immediately know what ability level that child is at," Griffiths said.

In fact, anecdotal evidence shows that younger kids become interested in wanting to learn how to swim in order to join their older siblings in deeper water or measure up to their brother or sister's swimming ability.

"We find out that with life jackets and identifying marks, swim lesson enrollment increases. They want to move up to the next color band or get out of the life jacket, and it moves kids along," he said.

Moreover, "Water clarity standards along with additional lifeguard staff are just a couple of the ways to ensure less drowning events," Arko added. "Breath-holding games have been responsible for many drowning situations and injuries at public pools. This practice is now forbidden at most public recreational water sites."

Water Treatment

The recognition of the value of secondary treatment methods is a trend seen more often now in water treatment.

"From a commercial aquatic standpoint, these secondary methods come in the form of UV, ozone and enhanced filtration with polymers," said Brian Bokowy, business manager CIM for a provider of chemicals to the swimming pool and spa markets.

"When used in conjunction with proper chlorination techniques and good maintenance practices, these methods serve to reduce the risk of exposure to Cryptosporidium and other organisms as well as improvements to water clarity and indoor air quality," Bokowy explained.

He went on to say that the "establishment of some industry standards is certainly a benefit in getting aquatic facilities to modernize. At the same time, the industry must do a better job of training operators and educating people at all levels of aquatic facility management [about] the risks associated with improper water treatment and the tools and techniques available to reduce those risks."