Pool and Beach Openings Call for ‘Safety First’

Ron O’Keefe

Summer is still a few months off. But it’s not too early for aquatic facilities directors to start thinking about how to keep pool and beach patrons safe.

Your first order of business should be the warning sign.

  • This sign should remind guests that while a day at the beach or pool is a pleasure, it also carries risks, including serious ones.
  • Don’t frighten patrons, but don’t minimize the dangers, either.
  • When creating your sign, make each word count, and post the notice in a strategic location. Don’t clutter the area with other signs.

After you’re confident that you have an effective sign and a prime location for it, you’ll be ready for the pre-season inspection. This inspection, conducted long before bare feet touch the sand or pavement, should focus on identifying and repairing common hazards such as loose bolts, unsteady railings, broken steps, broken float lines, and other damaged items.

  • Be methodical.
  • Use a checklist and inspect and reexamine items daily.
  • Pay particular attention to diving boards and docks, checking the board, hardware, and water depth. Look for cracks in the board and erosion of surface areas and consider replacing the board if wear is significant.
  • Also, remember to remove broken glass and other hazardous debris.

Before opening day at your beach or pool, post rules and assign lifeguards to supervise diving areas. Require a swim test for anyone who wants to use the diving board.

  • If your waterfront includes a dock, let patrons know if diving is allowed.
  • Assign a lifeguard to supervise at the dock, and test swimmers before allowing them to swim out to a floating dock.
  • Pay attention to water depths.
  • Diving is permitted off a dock, without a diving board, if there is at least nine feet of water. Water safety experts say ten feet is better.
  • You need at least 12 feet of water for diving if you have a diving board on your dock.
  • If you allow floats, rafts, or play apparatus at your facility, assign a lifeguard to supervise.
  • Establish a minimum age for access to play equipment and instruct lifeguards to reinforce rules.
  • In addition, remember to test the water level at least weekly. This is especially important during periods of low rainfall.

Patrons will remind you daily that the pool or beach is all about fun. Without rules, and someone to enforce and review them, however, visitors risk accidents and you expose yourself to possible litigation. You’ll sail through the summer by emphasizing emergency preparedness and following through by developing an emergency action plan.

  • Be sure to update your plan regularly and use it for staff training.
  • Remember to plan for a variety of possible emergencies, starting with a group use policy.
  • Half of all drowning accidents occur at group events, according to safety experts who urge facilities directors to develop and use event management plans, especially during large functions.
  • Start educating the public early. Distribute pre-event brochures that contain policies, rules, and expectations, and assign one staff member to oversee this function.
  • Remember that some visitors to the pool or beach don’t know how to swim.
  • Protect non-swimmers by administering a swim test and limiting their access to the water. Require non-swimmers to remain in waist deep water, an arm’s length from a capable adult swimmer.
  • If your facility permits personal flotation devices, require them to carry the U.S. Coast Guard approval, a certification stamped on the PFD. Also check for defects.

As the facilities director, it’s also your responsibility to strengthen your staff, providing in-service training that includes conditioning activities, surveillance and scanning drills, rescue practice, and team building.

  • Keep records. To protect your facility and your staff, document everything you do to maintain your pool or beach and keep guests safe. In the event of an accident, and possible litigation, you’ll need thorough records.
  • Check employee certifications and record any problems with staff. In a situation where you must fire an employee, you’ll have the record to justify your decision.

And finally, ask for help.

  • The New Hampshire Local Government Center runs lifeguard responsibility training, lifeguard audits, beach and pool inspections, and diving board inspections for facilities covered by LGC Property-Liability Trust. Contact LGC to have a Health and Safety Advisor review your equipment and check water depths.
  • For more information, join our webinar on May 2 at 10 a.m., Documentation 101 for Pool and Beach Operators. Visit www.nhlcg.org to learn more and register.

Ron O’Keefe is a Health and Safety Advisor for the New Hampshire Local Government Center. Contact Ron at 800.852.3358, ext. 289, or at rokeefe@nhlgc.org.