From The Top Down

Managing risks at an aquatic or other recreational facility is an important task, yet many facilities fail to assess potential risks and develop safety plans. Continual education and understanding the importance of managing risk are essential.

On August 4, 2009, Good Morning, America reported that approximately 1,000 people drown annually, and one out of five occurred while a lifeguard was on duty. For every one life lost to a drowning, 70,000 lives are saved annually by lifeguards. The Centers for Disease Control reports that drowning accounts for 9 percent of accidental deaths in the United States among children up to age 19. The average ratio of children who drown in the United States is 1.4 per 10,000. These statistics show the importance of properly trained staff, the need for facility risk-management and emergency-action plans and the need for strong leadership in aquatic facilities. The 70,000 lives saved are a real encouragement for ensuring that the best qualified people are properly trained and managed to guard aquatic facilities. This is time and money well-invested.

A Look At Risk

Managing risk is the assessment and identification of all potential incidents, accidents and hazards that may occur at any time. Managing risk for aquatic facilities can be complex and overwhelming, given the various aspects that need to be considered. Just as with any other department or program offered, the success of an aquatic facility’s risk-management efforts come from top management, and include staff that will be responsible for daily implementation and oversight. Administrators who develop an organizational emergency-action plan will discover that the plans are comprehensive, and contain elements that will take an entire team to appropriately implement and manage, but will successfully maximize safety and minimize incidents.

Start With Staff

Hiring properly certified personnel ensures that staff has learned industry-tested procedures. Operators of aquatic facilities must be aware of the various types of certifications available beyond the normal scope of lifeguard certifications. Certifications and trainings for management and aquatic staff may include:

· Certified pool operator

· Professional pesticides applicator (licensed, depending on the state)

· Lifeguard trainer

· Lifeguard

· CPR, first aid, AED for the Professional Rescuer

· Oxygen administration

· Swimming and water safety

· Preventative disease transmission.

Simple Yet Critical

For best results, emergency-action plans should include clearly defined step-by-step processes, easily understood during stressful, emergency situations. The goal is to assist the employee managing the emergency, and to eliminate potential errors during the process. Practicing, testing and evaluating the plan regularly is the best approach. Document any concerns, weaknesses in performance, employee struggles or areas for improvement.

Developing risk-management and emergency-action plans begins with asking a simple yet critical question: “Does the facility have a plan?” Next, identify all of the potential risks and hazards at the aquatic facility; this is a daunting task that will continually change with physical enhancements, membership increases and insurance mandates. Then develop and implement a plan based on that assessment. A facility’s risk-management plan is designed to protect employees, swimmers and the facility.

Employee Involvement

Regular training and mandatory review help keep employees informed of the plan. Management should offer support to employees acquiring possible certifications and courses with the latest information. The plan should emphasize the importance of record-keeping of employee trainings and certifications as well as facility incidents and accidents.

Patron Participation While employees are mandated to actively participate in staff meetings and trainings, swimmers should also be proactive and risk management-minded. Educating patrons on proper facility use, emergency practices, personal health/personal hygiene etiquette and safety standards will help support an environment of overall safety and well-being.

Let patrons know that there is an emergency plan in place. It is a testament to your concern for their safety, and helps support a positive environment. Practicing drills during regular hours of operation helps patrons to better understand the responsibilities and training of the staff, as well as the role of the patron. Other methods of educating patrons on specific areas of the emergency plan may include membership orientation, booklets, fliers or posters. Topics may include:

· Proper facility use

· Emergency practices

· Personal health/personal hygiene

· Pool etiquette

· Safety standards.

Planning For Unpredictable Events T

he plan should be flexible enough in design to change based on circumstances and case-by-case incidents. It should be open to continual advancements as information from the industry is made available and as situations occur.

Developing procedures for natural disasters and inclement weather impacts all facilities and is sometimes left out of a plan. Human threats, such as from bombs or physical abuse, are unpredictable, but having strict procedures for the protection of children should be addressed within a plan.

Susan Wallover is President of Wallover Aquatics International, LLC. She can be reached via e-mail at

Angela Hammer is a Recreation Specialist for Wallover Aquatics International, LLC. She can be reached at