Diving rarely enters the national spotlight, but with a focus on U.S. divers at the 2012 Summer Olympics beginning later this month in London, children may approach 3-meter springboards at local aquatic facilities with added curiosity. Consequently, pool operators must be extra vigilant. Relics from the '60s and '70s, the boards — typically accessed by 10-foot ladders and not always off-limits to recreational swimmers — need to be restricted for swimming and diving team use only, according to one aquatics safety expert who has studied springboard diving safety.

"We're just seeing far too many catastrophic falls from these things, off the ladder to the deck," says Tom Griffiths, president of Aquatic Safety Research Group in State College, Pa. "There's not a playground in America where you allow children to freely climb a vertical ladder 10 feet over concrete. But we allow this regularly in aquatics."

Griffiths notes that the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations have reported no fatalities or catastrophic injuries in competitive diving. But a recent study performed by his research firm suggests recreational diving board behavior is difficult to supervise.

Earlier this year, Craig Brown, springboard diving coach at Penn State University, recruited five college-age students (three males and two females) ranging in height from 5 feet, 3 inches to 6 feet. Each of the five subjects performed, among other actions, 10 feet-first step-offs and 10 head-first falls from the board into the water to simulate falling from the top of the board to a concrete deck. No falls took more than one second, and many lasted closer to only a half-second. "Our point is, you can't supervise something that takes a half-second to accomplish," Griffiths says.

If hitting the deck doesn't result in death, then paralysis or catastrophic brain injuries may occur, and Griffiths says deck-related injury lawsuits can pay plaintiffs more than drowning cases. To make 3-meter springboard ladders fall-safe requires the same type of upgrades made to playgrounds when slide ladders were replaced with safer stairways and landings.

Here are his suggestions:

  • The horizontal rails at the diving board level should be increased in number and extended to a foot or more beyond the pool edge in a fall-proof fashion.
  • The ladder should be replaced with a stairway with horizontal landings and railings equipped with safety spindles.
  • When a new 3-meter board is installed, it should be mounted on a wide concrete platform rather than a metal stand. Access to the new board should be by stairway.
  • Soft padding should be placed throughout the entire landing area in the drop zone.
  • If the existing 3-meter diving board cannot be safely renovated, it should be removed.

On his suggestions:

1. If you extend the horizontal railings as he suggests, it will inhibit competitive divers during their front approach.

2. The concrete platform is a great idea but some pools cannot house them or the owner does not have the funds to install it.

3. Soft padding is not practical because of the slippery factor that will result from all the water that will be on them.

4. Cities, counties, schools etc do not have the dollars to renovate their existing 3 meters so the author is in effect hurting the sport of diving by his suggestion.

5.Lifeguards could safely supervise 3 meter diving activity if educated. Most know nothing about diving. While it is true about the short amount of time it takes to fall off a 3 meter onto the deck, better vigilance by lifeguards is the key factor here.
Dr. Tom Griffiths Thursday, 12 July 2012
As a former springboard diver and Division I coach, I do appreciate your comments. Unfortunately, we have seen far too many children permanently injured by falling to the deck below. Quite frankly, supervision is spotty at best. If scores of individuals drown each year in guarded facilities, with a scenario that takes minutes, how are lifeguards supposed to prevent falls that take 1/2 a second? Those who can't afford to renovate 3-meter boards the way we suggest should ban recreational divers from using them or remove the high diving boards. In decades past we rode in cars without seat belts, rode bikes and skied without helmets,and climbed vertical ladders to slides in playgrounds but times have changed. Unfortunately, the protectionist 3-meter philosophy is antiquated and unsafe. The diving board manufacturers should safely design their products in the future as so many other manufacturers have done in the past.
I'm confused... what does the speed of the fall have anything to do with this? It would take the same amount of time to fall out of a 10 foot tree, or off a 10 foot roof.

Facilities need to be proactive rather than reactive. Educate those using the pool. Figure out a way to close off the 3m board. There are other things that can be done.
I am confused. Is the concern children using the 3 m board recreationally? when they chouldn't be? when the boards are closed? during instructional classes? The 'This' photo is still missing a key component to safety - a locking gate that prohibits unauthorized/unsupervised use of the board. There are gate methods employed by organizations from zip lining to aquatics facilities that ustilize an effective locking gate for the 'Not this' types of ladders as well as stairs.
A friend of mine fell off the 3 meter diving board onto concrete. He lost his balance on the board and fell on to his side. Luckily he has no head injuries. I think they should change the ladder and the railing next to the diving board should go till the water and further. There should also be something under the diving board so you can't fall from the side.