Feature Article - February 2022
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Safe In (and Out of) the Water

Aquatic Facility Safety From Design Through Operation

By Dave Ramont


Safer Surfaces

Pool and deck surfaces are certainly a critical safety consideration, and Briana Massie, marketing manager for a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of aquatic safety surfacing, explained that the top surfacing-related pain point that aquatic facilities face is slip-and-fall injuries. "Surfacing can also help reduce drowning risks since a slippery pool edge can cause patrons not intending to swim to slip into the pool. This is especially important for the visually impaired and blind community."

She explained how different tile textures can be combined to tactically signal if a pool edge is present. "Pool edges can also be a different color to visually signal that water depth is present."

Massie pointed out that for decades there weren't a lot of surfacing options, so facilities often defaulted to concrete or ceramic tiles despite their inherent slipperiness and abrasive properties. In addition to new builds, her company's tiles can be retrofitted over existing surfaces. The tiles are the first safety surfacing product to be certified by NSF/ANSI/CAN 50, according to Massie, fulfilling six performance-based requirements: slip resistance, impact attenuation, impermeability, cleanability, chemical resistance, and UV resistance.

Impermeability is important because hazardous materials such as fertilizer runoff from nearby lawns, chemicals or human byproducts won't absorb into the tiles, according to Massie. "This makes sanitization more effective and safer; our tiles experience a 99.9% reduction of bacteria after being sanitized, including the joints of tiles, in accordance with the MAHC. Chemical resistance is important because facilities use chemicals such as chlorine."

She explained that their cutting process allows them to cut nearly anything out of their surfaces, such as depth markers and safety messaging (for instance, No Diving). "Our tiles being chemical-resistant means that safety messaging stays in high contrast, and that our tiles' slip-resistance and impact absorption properties won't be compromised."

Landing pads, commonly used at the bottom of slides at the exit point, are another consideration. "They ensure a softer landing and don't use bolts, so feet won't be cut," said Massie. "They're thicker than our normal tiles that are commonly used for splash pads and pool decks and have higher impact absorption as a result. They can also be used under multilevel play structures or diving boards where fall height is a concern. By surfacing splash pads with (our floors), this can help reduce the risks associated with not having a lifeguard present."

Speaking of Lifeguards…

Lifeguards are of course on the front lines of safety, and program audits—in-depth looks at facility policies, procedures and practices—can help identify areas where lifeguard performance can be improved. DeRosa highly recommends these every five years, and explained that they're often combined with a staff observational audit, which typically involves an unannounced observation of lifeguards, slide attendants, facility supervisors and other staff. "Lifeguard skills and scenario performance for a select number of staff will be assessed. Items typically observed include 'on-station' performance such as remaining in proper uniform, sun protection measures, posture, attentiveness, scanning practice and rescue readiness. Additional observations may include lifeguard rotations, slide dispatch procedures and supervisory interactions with lifeguard staff."

DeRosa said that as recruiting lifeguards becomes more challenging, more facilities are willing to provide free certification courses to those willing to work for a specific period of time. "Most well-run aquatic facilities have lifeguarding instructors on staff, to assist with certification courses and in-service training. These instructors are typically affiliated with one or more certifying agencies, such as the American Red Cross, StarGuard, YMCA or Ellis & Associates."

He added that lifeguards should be paid more than, say, fast-food workers, due to the demands of the job. "If the culture of an aquatic facility is not up-to-date with the changing needs of the workforce, the facility may find it increasingly difficult to recruit staff."

Griffiths explained that COVID-19 made things worse because pools couldn't recruit guards from the previous season. "Free lifeguard classes at the needy facility, hiring senior citizens, bonuses for new hires as well as staff members finding new hires all had varying degrees of success."