Aquatic facilities are among the most popular locations in Australia for active recreation across all ages. The local pool is an important community space offering opportunities for educational purposes, swimming lessons, social interaction, exercise, relaxation, and stress relief.
In Australia, the number of visitations to public pools each year is estimated at 333 million, which increases the risk of exposure to accidents and injury to patrons, facility staff, and visitors. In order to meet community expectations and provide a safe environment, aquatic facility operators must drive improvements in all aspects of facility operation to identify, analyse, evaluate, and control these risks. Key elements associated with the provision of safe public pools include but are not limited to those listed below.
There are inherent risks associated with public swimming pools for both patrons and employees. Providing a safe working environment for employees and visitors is essential to effective business planning and operation. Managing risk effectively promotes good decision-making, supports prudent practice, and ensures safety.
Too often, organisations and aquatic facilities develop and implement control measures first. In doing so, there is an increased likelihood that specific hazards and associated risks may not be identified. A structured risk assessment ensures that site-specific hazards are identified, and risks are evaluated accordingly, with control measures then determined and implemented.
Due to the nature of aquatic facilities, situations can evolve rapidly, and not all potential circumstances can be foreseen. Therefore, aquatic staff should be trained to perform dynamic risk assessments, allowing them to conduct their own risk evaluations. Dynamic risk assessments should be seen as a supplement to a good risk management program. Depending on the complexity of the task and the time involved this can be supported with an aide such as a checklist or decision tree process.
It is considered industry best practice that supervision be in place for all public swimming pools that are situated, constructed, or installed, on any non-residential premises occupied by the Crown, public authority, or by a private body for public or commercial use. Appropriately trained Pool Lifeguards should be deployed to maintain effective supervision of all persons within the swimming pool and surrounding concourse. The Lifeguards should be directed by a set of arrangements within a Supervision Plan which has been developed through a structured risk assessment.
A Lifeguard’s job requires a high degree of judgment, knowledge, skill, and fitness in both day-to-day Lifeguarding and in the stress of an emergency. Therefore, organisations should ensure Lifeguards undertake in-service/professional development training on a regular basis to help sustain the Lifeguard’s confidence in their ability to recognise situations that may cause a threat to the safety of patrons and effectively respond in an emergency.
Effective supervision at an aquatic facility should be defined as achieving the safest outcome for patrons by the most effective use of qualified Lifeguards and other risk control mechanisms. An example of other control mechanisms is the implementation of Parental Supervision Programs. Such a program targets parents and guardians of young children to help them understand their responsibilities surrounding appropriate level of child supervision within aquatic facilities.
Aquatic Safety Signage
Aquatic safety signage is a commonly used risk mitigation strategy in aquatic venues. Signs are intended to perform the function of imparting information to the public about risks, safety issues and other relevant behaviour. It is also an economical way to support Lifeguard’s in the provision of supervision.
The placement of aquatic safety signage such as depth markers and advisory symbols (warnings and prohibitions) should be carefully considered. This will ensure an effective signage system that allows patrons to make an informed decision when using a particular body of water.
Aquatic safety signage must be in line with the Guidelines for Safe Pool Operations and particular attention given to ensure:
- signs are consistent
- adequately sized to ensure they are visible from the intended viewing distance
- text accompanying all symbols to ensure the sign’s meaning is fully understood.
Technical Operations focuses on those aspects of pool operation related to the maintenance of pool water quality. Organisations need to consider the safe practice and use of pool plant and associated equipment as well as chemical storage and handling. This area is one of the most heavily regulated in aquatic facility operations and also has one of the lowest rates of safety compliance.
The areas identified as having the most potential to improve compliance are largely administrative and include:
- The preparation of dangerous goods manifests, which include notifying Safe Work NSW and Fire and Rescue NSW
- A hazardous chemical register that outlines a list of all hazardous chemicals stored, handled, and used at a facility, along with the current safety data sheets (SDS) for each of the hazardous chemicals listed
- Placarding and signage of chemicals and chemical storage areas to help identify areas where significant quantities of hazardous chemicals in packages/bulk vats are stored, as well as indicate the required emergency actions for hazardous chemicals in tanks through the use of the HAZCHEM codes
- The acquisition, storage, and use of Personal Protective Equipment to help prevent staff emergencies on the job due to inhalation, absorption, irritants, or other prolonged contact with chemicals and equipment
- Preparation and maintenance of risk assessments on the storage and handling of site-specific chemicals
- Controlling infection risks by ensuring pool water is regularly tested and is clean and hygienic, providing people who use the pool with information about good hygiene in the water e.g. Don’t swim if you have had diarrhoea in the last two weeks, always shower and wash thoroughly with soap before entering the pool.
Policy and Procedures
The development of site-specific Emergency Management Plans and Operational Policies and Procedures are often overlooked in the aquatic sector. Operational policies and procedures should:
- Be comprehensive and specific to the aquatic facilities operation.
- Provide a framework in which decisions can be made and implemented.
- Be able to guide someone unfamiliar to the facility through the day-to-day procedures and provide a valuable resource to support continuous operation.
The emergency management plan should include likely emergency scenarios that may occur at the facility and adequate protocols to effectively manage the different types of emergencies.
Rescue Equipment and First Aid
Although it is preferred that incidents do not occur, it is unrealistic to expect that all incidents can be prevented. In order to minimise the severity of an injury or illness, aquatic staff and visitors should have access to first aid facilities and safety equipment.
In determining the type, quantity, and location of safety equipment for aquatic facilities, the owner or operator should take into account all relevant factors, such as:
- the nature of the activities at the Aquatic Facility
- the nature of the hazards at the Aquatic Facility
- the size, location, and nature of the Aquatic Facility
- the number and composition of persons at the Aquatic Facility.
- The skills and knowledge required to use specialised equipment e.g., oxygen equipment
In the event of a serious injury or illness, quick access to first aid/rescue equipment is vital. Equipment including first aid kits, oxygen, defibrillator, rescue devices should be kept in a prominent, accessible location and able to be retrieved promptly.
First aid/rescue equipment should be inspected and checked for correct operation and adequacy prior to or at an Aquatic Facility opening each day.
A risk assessment will help determine the type of first aid facilities needed. The contents of first aid kits should also be based on a risk assessment of the Aquatic facility and not just contain the minimum content requirements.
For further information on the safe operations of public and commercial aquatic facilities, you can refer to the RLSSA Guidelines for Safe Pool Operations https://www.royallifesaving.com.au/subscribers/GSPO