Think Ahead

As waterparks and spraygrounds continue to grow in popularity across the country, it is important to consider the inherent risks associated with these attractions.

As such, owners and operators have a responsibility to establish a reasonable and prudent risk-management plan that will provide for the safety of the patrons as well as the efficient operation of the facility.

A facility risk-management plan should include:

• Appropriate pre-service and in-service training programs for staff members

• Proper and strategic placement and supervision of lifeguards in various attractions

• Adequate instructions to patrons on the safe use of the attractions

Pre-Service And In-Service Training

For starters, pre-service training and orientation must be provided so staff members are aware of safety procedures and protocols throughout the facility. Prior to opening for the season, it is critical that team members attend this training and are provided with relevant safety manuals, brochures or other documents outlining the safety rules to be followed at each attraction.

Another goal of the meeting is to remind staff members to think about hazards in various environments, such as deep water, receiving pools and sprayparks.

Providing ongoing in-service training for lifeguards also is imperative. This keeps the staff current with any changes to safety rules and procedures as well as reinforces training and skills.

In addition, it is important that management either provide vision-screening for the lifeguards or require proof that they have undergone vision-screening to ensure they meet the requirement of 20/30 vision.

Failure to meet this requirement poses a risk that a lifeguard may not be able to clearly scan an assigned zone, thereby failing to detect a patron in distress.

Placement And Supervision Of Lifeguards

The proper number and placement of lifeguards is dependent on the attraction. For waterslides, a lifeguard should be at the top of each slide and at the bottom in the receiving pool. This not only ensures that help is readily available in case a patron has difficulty upon entering the receiving pool, but also assists in quickly moving patrons away from the slide exit.

Placement configuration also facilitates an effective communication system between lifeguards. The dispatcher needs to know when it is safe to send a patron down the slide. A lifeguard stationed in the receiving pool must be aware of the patron’s progress down the ride and indicate to the dispatcher that the patron has safely entered the splash pool and then exited the pool.

Such a system may incorporate the use of electronic red or green signal lights, whistles, radios or walkie-talkies, and requires that a lifeguard receive an all-clear before permitting the next patron to use the slide.

Whatever communication system is selected, it must meet the specific needs of the waterpark; the system should also be reviewed on a regular basis and evaluated for effectiveness.

With respect to river attractions, a lifeguard at each station is responsible for a particular zone. These locations should be determined according to the International Lifeguard Training Program, established by Ellis and Associates, and should follow the 10/20 Protection Rule.

This rule requires that a lifeguard must be able to detect a patron in distress within the first 10 seconds, and then reach the person and render assistance within 20 seconds. Management should consider this rule when making decisions regarding the most effective way to deal with any emergency.

Lifeguards should be monitored and supervised to make certain they are properly discharging their responsibilities.

Instructions, Warnings And Signage

It is the responsibility of the waterpark to provide patrons with appropriate instructions regarding safe use of the facility and attractions. An aquatic environment requires adherence to the highest safety standards and practices because of the potential for drowning.

Management should never assume that patrons are aware of the risk or potential hazards that may be inherent in the attractions. Management must also make certain that patrons comply with instructions and rules for their own safety as well as that of other patrons.

Posting appropriate warning signage throughout the waterpark not only supplements the active supervisory responsibilities of lifeguards, but also will prevent conditions and circumstances that may lead to patron injuries.

Signage should be placed at appropriate and visible locations adjacent to the attractions, and should be location-specific. For instance, signage at sprayparks should indicate that only younger children are allowed to use an attraction to prevent older children from commingling, which generally creates a hazard.

Signs also should provide safety warnings and instructions in a clear and unambiguous manner, eliminating the need for any clarification. Colors should be bold and easily visible. The American National Standards Institute indicates signs should use the word “WARNING” to emphasize that the signage is important and should be read by patrons who will use the attraction.

Leonard K. Lucenko is an aquatic, recreation and sport-safety and risk-management consultant; a certified pool operator and a certified forensic consultant and a member of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO). He can be reached at or