Feature Article - January 2016
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Safe in the Water

Programs, Audits Are Key to Enhancing Aquatic Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Safety Equipment

In case of an emergency, having a rescue tube on hand as a lifesaver for the victim and the rescuer, as well as a ring buoy, are essential. In fact, Griffiths said he would like to see the ring buoy made better use of.

"That device is over 100 years old and was invented to be thrown off ships to rescue a person overboard; that's why the line attached is so long. But that line attached to the ring buoy is problematic," he said. "It always gets tangled and people can't throw the ring buoy with accuracy or consistency. I would like us to take the line off large ring buoys and have rescuers swim it out to the victim."

Griffiths also said that children who cannot swim should be in a properly fitting life jacket until they can be competent and confident in the water.

"Kids in life jackets just won't drown, plus our data suggests when a Note & Float policy is adopted by a swimming facility, swimmers, parents and lifeguards are all happier and appreciative," he said.

For resuscitation efforts, it was unanimous among aquatics experts that an AED (automated external defibrillator) should be on hand, along with oxygen. "An AED may not help with all drowning victims, but not having an AED is really going to hurt the facility when defending a lawsuit," Griffiths said.

Berzansky said an AED is a necessity and added that his company offers the community free AED classes. "The AED will come with a CPR mask and gloves, which is the last piece of equipment needed," he said, adding that clear signage with the address of the facility is of the utmost importance, too. "This will help the rescuer or bystanders communicate their location to EMS quickly and correctly," he said.

Similarly, Katchmarchi suggested that a well-stocked first aid kit and an AED and having supplemental oxygen are crucial. "Drowning is a respiratory event. And that's something that is lagging behind, having emergency oxygen available," he added. "Most facilities don't have that ready to go."

In case of an emergency, having a rescue tube on hand as a lifesaver for the victim and the rescuer, as well as a ring buoy, are essential.

Not only is drowning an issue, but so is the risk of concussions. USA Swimming and the American Red Cross both have acknowledged the danger of swimmer concussion from the impact at the wall.

As a result, a new pool safety device brought to market earlier this year from a Camarillo, Calif.-based company features a wall-bumper design and has been tested to decrease the impact of wall collisions by more than 300 percent. The semi-submersible system hooks onto lane lines to reduce injury from wall impact and does not interfere with turns or stroke.

"Believe it or not, concussion and injury from wall collisions is actually a big safety hazard for swimmers," said Keith McKnett, a veteran swimmer and swim coach who founded the company in 2013. "Every swimmer has had a run-in with the wall at some point, whether missing the backstroke flags or just misjudging the distance to the wall during a regular flip turn," he said. "It's not as widely reported as injuries from other big school sports, like football or basketball, but it is a real issue that I've seen and heard throughout my years of coaching."

McKnett, who also is a 20-year swim coach at Rio Mesa High School, added that with swimming being an excellent form of exercise, it's important to make it accessible and safe for everyone, regardless of their skill level.

"Wall collision is a very real source of injury that affects all swimmers, but especially those who are sight-impaired, have special needs and are inexperienced swimmers," McKnett said. "I've seen parents trying to protect their children from wall collisions at swim meets by waving kick boards to warn them of the proximity of the wall. It's an imperfect system. We need to improve it."

Meanwhile, Katchmarchi, who conducts training at different aquatic facilities throughout the country, added that all lifeguards should have their pocket CPR resuscitator masks on hand, too.

"Other things aquatic facilities should have is a good quality backboard," he said, adding that it is a necessity to ensure that the backboard is in good working order at all times.

"I recommend having a backboard and having some equipment for practice; having some equipment that isn't used all the time," he said.

Finally, technology is a huge benefit, too.

"Computers are vigilant and humans are not," Griffiths said, noting that technologies continue to save victims in swimming pools that lifeguards miss.

One particular technology, a computer-assisted video system that was developed by a Norcross, Ga.-based company, detects drowning victims on the bottom. Griffiths believes it has more than 30 documented drowning victim saves that lifeguards on duty missed.

"It is a very effective, but expensive, system," he said.