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July 24, 2019

Play Hard, Play Safe

Play Hard, Play Safe

As adults, nothing draws us back to our childhood more than spending time on a playground, a swimming pool or ball fields. We are reminded of the 12’ metal slide and the ladder leading to the launch position, or the massive concrete hole filled with water, boasting two diving boards; a 3’ low dive and a 12’ high dive and a filtration system providing suspect water quality. Most memorable in my mind are the different athletic fields/courts containing miles of chain-link fencing, uneven playing surfaces, and lack of lighting. In my youth, each was constructed and operated predominantly by municipalities or school districts with some private enterprise.

Recreational societal evolution has changed. Municipalities and school districts remain primary operators, but over time there has been an insurgence of private enterprise adding these amenities to their properties and marketing efforts. With the increase in these facilities has come a spotlight that shines directly on the owner to ensure—whatever the facility is—be managed to control the overwhelming exposure that this equipment creates. To borrow General Motors marketing slogan; “This is not your Father’s Buick”.

The objective of this series is to raise awareness of exposures associated with recreational equipment and some best practices that can be implemented to mitigate the exposure, increase safety, and reduce litigation. This week, we take a look at pool safety and how we can minimize risks and avoid injury. Please note, this article is not intended to be a catch all of all dangers, exposures, and controls.

Aquatic Activities

Swimming pools and aquatic centers are beacons of fun, with children and adults alike logging plenty of splash time during hot summer and cold winter months. Outdoor municipal pools have given way to aquatic centers – both indoor and outdoor, splash parks, and HOA operated swimming pools. At one time, operators only had to concern themselves with the possible risks of diving boards and slides. Now, that risk has expanded with new equipment features such as tubes, open spiral slides, and zip lines, climbing structures, and even heightened water quality.

In many respects, pools are safer today then of years past. Awareness has been substantially heightened and the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) has been established. Guidelines have been developed and implemented. Having noted this, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from 2005–2014, there were on average 3,536 drowning deaths per year. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports 4,900 people received emergency care for injuries suffered in a swimming pool or spa in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013.

It is worth noting that no pool or spa should be operated that is not in compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, also referred to P&SS Act. The P&SS was enacted by Congress and became law effective December 19, 2008. A PDF of the act can be found here. This law is designed to prevent the tragic and hidden hazards of drain entrapment and eviscerations in pools and spas.

Pool equipment exposures can be managed following a few key best practice methods:

  • Develop an inspection schedule of the facility noting surface irregularities, damaged attractions, and appropriate lighting. Attractions taken out of service, as needed to correct deficiencies.
  • Establish water quality testing protocol for both pools and spas that requires water to be tested every four hours, and hourly for heavier use. Chlorine levels should be maintained between 1-3 parts per million and pH levels kept between 7.2-7.8. Record and store all test results.
  • Establish a policy and procedure to respond to fecal and vomit incidents. Document and store testing data and response efforts.
  • Post rules and regulations at the pool entrance with appropriate phone number to report deficiencies. Pools with different attractions should have rules posted pursuant to specific equipment. An Age limit requirement must be established to enter facility without adult supervision.
  •  Swimming pools with no Life Guard supervision should have signage indicating so, and age limits established requiring adult supervision.
  • Swimming pools with Life Guard supervision should have certification process in place and credentialing done by the American Red Cross or other reputable organizations. A Policy should be in place and enforced that prohibits Life Guards from having personal cell phones or any other personal communication device or music player on their person while in the chair supervising swimmers.
  • Water depth markings should be prominently displayed on the pool deck and no diving enforced.
  • A life ring and shepherd hook should be available and located in close proximity to the pool or spa.
  • An Emergency Action Plan in place and practiced to respond to inclement weather or a water borne lifesaving event.

Swimming pools, aquatic centers, and splash parks can be great fun for all ages; safely enjoyed with adult supervision. In this extremely litigious culture we find ourselves, just remember, “This is not your Father’s Buick”. Play Hard, play safe!

In our next issue, we’ll look at the safety and liabilities of playgrounds, skate parks, and athletic fields.


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