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Tips on Maintaining Safe Swimming Spaces

By Jonathan Roberts

As swimming grows as a preferred method of exercise and physical therapy for the young and elderly alike, commercial aquatic facilities continue to experience an increase in patronage year after year. Evidence includes the escalating number of people who use pools for water aerobics, muscle strengthening and water walking/yoga—not to mention traditional swim lessons, as well as competitive swimming and diving.

Aquatic facility operators and managers need to keep abreast of the many safety products available to keep the pool, deck area and locker rooms as safe as possible for patrons of all ages and physical abilities. It is important to equip today's pools with products that help prevent accidents and injury, such as padding for dive stands, slides and water features, slip-resistant flooring for pool decks and locker rooms, properly maintained perimeter grating, and even padding for custom rails and ladders.

Renovating aquatic facilities to make them safer benefits staff and patrons. Adding these safety products can also provide a facelift for older commercial pools.

Safety Padding

By far, one of the greatest safety concerns at commercial pools is diving boards and slides. These products make pools more attractive and enjoyable to users, but they do pose one of the greatest threats of injury—aside from drowning. Fortunately, there are now multiple options for safety padding designed specifically to help prevent accidents, not only from slides and diving boards, but also from other attractions such as climbing walls, rope bridges and lily pad walks, as well as other pool activity features.

Dive Stand Pads
These safety pad systems are specifically designed for pools equipped with 3-meter dive stands. They were developed to protect patrons from dive stand or water playground falls from heights up to 13 feet. Dr. Tom Griffiths, a noted aquatic industry safety expert with Aquatic Safety Research Group in State College, Pa., has officially endorsed these safety pad systems after he reviewed the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)/American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) drop test and confirmed conclusively the safety pads eliminate "… 97 per cent of critical injuries and 100 per cent of fatal falls from head impact from heights of up to 3 m (9.8 ft)."

Dive stand pads are custom manufactured from durable, colorfast, watertight, slip-resistant pool-compatible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and foam materials. The pads are low-maintenance and provide an effective method of making dive areas safer for pool patrons.

These pad systems are available for on-deck, flush-mounted or underwater applications—along with numerous variations. This padding can be used on existing or newly constructed dive stands. In addition to being an attractive upgrade to any aquatic facility, commercial pools that employ these safety pads may see a decrease in insurance costs.

Slide Pads
For slides with an open run-out, the safety concern is the exit. For example, users of these slides in water playground applications are exiting into shallow water areas and, depending on their momentum, may come in contact with the concrete pool floor. Therefore, it is important to add safety padding at the exit of these slides so users land on a soft, padded surface to help avoid injury.

As previously mentioned, some safety padding systems include an AS™ certified slip-resistant texture. These pads should adequately cover the slide's landing area in shallow water. It is important to take the time to observe patrons using the pool to determine the areas of potential injury before purchasing safety padding.

In addition to shallow areas at the slide exit, padding behind the slide ladders should also be considered. Falling from a ladder can be extremely dangerous. Following an example set by the playground industry, aquatic facilities need to ensure their slides have safety padding in the water and on the pool deck.

Further, many facilities are now even requesting custom bumpers to protect the heads of patrons as they enter a closed-flume slide. Patrons who are not paying attention to the slide's entry height, or are attempting to lift their heads within the closed flume, can become injured. Therefore, padding at the slide entrance is an excellent preventive measure.

Column Pads
Aquatic play features come in a wide array of configurations. Many are made of metal columns that rise vertically from the deck or pool floor. These columns are typically used throughout waterparks, splash areas, activity pools and even some standard pool facilities. These play features have increased patronage immensely as pools become more attractive and offer water play areas for all ages.

However, the increased attendance and a propensity for children to run in and out of the different water features makes having extra protection on these columns important, as they help to avoid head injuries. Whether these columns are holding netting and ropes for popular "lily pad walks" or are simply wrapped around vertical poles in a splash play area, the added cushion on these hard columns keeps patrons safer.

Edge Pads
These 90-degree pads are installed onto the deck over the edge of the pool wall and into the water. Just as the name suggests, they are placed on hard pool edges to provide extra protection where patrons may frequently bump during aquatic play. For example, edge pads can often be found near lily pad walks to protect those who may fall off near the edge of the pool.

These pads also come in handy in shallow pool areas where children play tag and toss beach balls, or in areas where smaller children play and are more likely to fall onto the pool wall edge.

Even access ramps, ladders and rails can potentially become areas of impact to bathers. That said, some facilities pad entire shallow end walls as an affordable way to increase safety in and around the pool.

Wave Pools/Waterparks
Wave pools, lazy rivers and waterparks in general are great beneficiaries of safety padding. With turbulent water currents that can push patrons into walls or other water features, the added padding is ideal for any area where there is a risk of swimming impact. This is often the case where water currents will pull or push small children toward a particular wall or corner. Most facilities are aware of these areas and should take the necessary precautions by installing additional safety padding.