How to Identify Risks at Aquatic Facilities

An in-house safety team can help keep patrons out of harm's way.

Risk management is the ongoing process of identifying risks of injury and financial loss and taking steps to eliminate, reduce or transfer those risks. A safety team made up of managers and front-line staff may be helpful in conducting a risk audit and developing a plan to control risks specific to your facility. The following steps should get you started:

Ask "What if?" As you walk around your pools, be aware of the potential for injury or financial loss by posing hypothetical situations based upon current observations. Remain vigilant for obvious dangers, but consider that many dangers may be less obvious to your patrons. For example, if a trash receptacle at an outdoor aquatic facility is full, ask yourself, "What if this is not emptied?" Then consider the possible results: Overflowing trash will not be visually appealing to patrons, which could negatively affect repeat business; bees might begin to congregate, which could result in a sting and an allergic reaction; or trash could spill onto the deck, resulting in a slip and fall.

Review state and local codes. Be familiar with the codes and regulations that govern the operation of your facility, including any applicable updates and interpretations. Failure to comply with the minimum requirements of the health code is often a focal point of plaintiff experts. Because code enforcement is inconsistent across the country, managers may be tempted to ignore code requirements when it suits their short-term needs. This slippery slope should be avoided. Knowing the code requirements helps identify and evaluate areas of risk, allowing for thoughtful operational decisions.

Regularly review incident and accident reports. Look for trends, such as recurring injuries on a given attraction or in a particular location. Incident mapping provides a visual means of tracking incidents and injuries, and helps pinpoint areas requiring additional attention. Past records reveal the types of injuries or incidents that have occurred, putting managers on notice that these types of events may occur again. Proactive managers take steps to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

Identify behaviors that put patrons at risk of injury. Lifeguards and other front-line staff members witness many behaviors that put patrons at risk of injury. Consider some of the most-common risky behaviors: parents not staying within arm's reach of young children, head-first entries into shallow water, repeated underwater breath-holding competitions and reliance on inflatable devices rather than Coast Guard-approved lifejackets. Knowing what risky behaviors are common among your patrons allows you to devise strategies to protect against the risk of injury.

Carefully examine staff behavior. Often, employees are so focused on protecting others from harm that they fail to take steps to protect themselves from injury or the employer from financial loss. Consider the following practices often observed at aquatic facilities: inappropriate cash handling, staff members eating from concessions, inconsistent enforcement of rules, failing to use required protective equipment when handling pool chemicals, physically intervening during fights among patrons, unsupervised staff swims, vacuuming the pool while patrons are swimming, catching children jumping from a diving board, congregating around one lifeguard station and managers who fail to document human-resource matters.

Examine policies regarding programs and personnel, identifying areas for improvement. How do you select, evaluate and, if necessary, terminate employees? Do job descriptions identify essential job functions? Are policies and procedures communicated to employees through the use of an employee manual? Are behavioral rules and regulations communicated to patrons? Is it your policy to conduct regular inspections of your facilities? Do employees know what to do in case of emergency? What is your policy regarding in-service training? Do you have a group-use policy? Have waiver and release forms been reviewed by legal counsel to ensure they meet specific legal requirements in your jurisdiction? Is there adequate supervision for each of your programs? A thorough programmatic review may reveal areas of risk that should be addressed as part of your overall risk-management plan.

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