PRB Articles


Safeguard Aquatic Facilities

By N. Jonas Ohrberg

Thousands of families, including children and the elderly, visit municipal pools and water parks every year seeking a fun and relaxing experience. Although providing such an environment can be a challenge, managers know that a safe experience is based on adequate training for staff, safe staff practices, and proper lifeguard and emergency equipment. In addition to these factors, one must also consider the legal ramifications of failing to adhere to such policies.

From the moment a visitor enters an aquatic facility, lifeguards and staff members are required to be concerned with visitors’ safety, including the entry and exit ways to the facility, locker rooms, walkways, and, of course, the pool areas. Although this can be a daunting task, it must be a priority; it is not only the right thing to do, but a legal responsibility to ensure a safe experience. This responsibility should be a mindset and a daily practice, which includes training lifeguards properly, having proper emergency equipment, and adhering to sound, daily staff practices.

Document Training

There is an abundance of emergency equipment available on the market. Proper equipment is necessary, but the lifeguards and facility personnel must have the proper training to use it. For liability purposes, this training must also be documented. Although the cost to provide equipment and training is significant, it should be considered an investment; legal issues and potential remedies can be extraordinarily expensive, but it is ultimately cheaper to take preventive measures to manage a safe aquatic facility.

Look To Lifeguards

Lifeguards must also realize the importance of their position. Due to the nature of an aquatic center’s seasons and the position, lifeguards are often young. Age does not mean that lifeguards are less responsible or incompetent, but they must recognize this position has significant responsibilities in considering the safety of the children, families, and the elderly. Lifeguards must be trained on the essential functions of the position and their equipment, as well as how to effectively use emergency equipment. With this in mind, management needs to develop training material and practices that will be relevant and that will prove satisfactory in the case of a lawsuit. It is also appropriate to consider the input from a legal advisor or attorney regarding the viability of a lifeguard-training program before it is implemented.

To determine potential risks to the visitors of an aquatic facility, management must monitor lifeguard practices on a regular basis, as well as note how the safety/emergency equipment is utilized. All aquatic personnel who interact with the public should be included in this training. The training needs to be documented to establish that a reasonable effort has been made to maintain safe practices at the facility.

Accidents As Teaching Tools

It is unfortunate and inevitable that accidents and injuries will occur. When these happen, use them as a learning opportunity. For instance, it is a regular practice to complete accident/injury reports and maintain a record of the incident. This information can be useful for training and accident/injury prevention purposes. It can also be useful in changing the daily practices and routines of lifeguards. After all, the best practices are often developed due to past mistakes and mishaps, so use them to benefit staff members rather than to bewilder them.

Give Visitors Direction

Maintaining safety also includes educating the public on the safe manner in which to use the facility. This can be accomplished by posting signs and warning notices. Since such signage is often ignored, it is important that lifeguards and supervisors actively monitor the pool areas and communicate effectively with visitors. The lifeguards and facility staff need to be seen and heard, other than from an occasional whistle. This includes giving simple and courteous directions and providing meaningful, face-to-face interaction.

Keeping aquatic facilities safe can be a challenge. However, preventive measures can help ensure the safety of customers as well as protect against the potential for lawsuits.

N. Jonas Ohrberg is a facility coordinator for the city of Rio Rancho Parks and Recreation Department in New Mexico. Ohrberg completed a Ph.D. in leadership from Capella University in October 2010. He can be reached via johrberg@ci.rio-rancho.nm.us .

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