Splashing Away Risk in Aquatics
Pools and aquatics always make a big splash and can be a key selling point for memberships. However, big splashes come with big risks, so it is important to have proper risk management processes in place.
Jennifer Altree, the aquatics director at The Claremont Club in Claremont, California, said proper training is her No. 1 way to reduce inherent risks in aquatics.
“At the Claremont Club, all of our swim team coaching staff has valid USA Swimming coach certifications, which includes water safety, CPR, First Aid and Minor Abuse Protection training, in addition to others,” said Altree. “Our seasonal lifeguards are American Red Cross certified and also attend a three to four-hour in-house training session before they can begin work. In addition, all club managers are CPR and AED certified, and are called via a code to any emergency situation.”
Another key way to keep your members safe in and around your pools is by having pool rules both your members and staff are aware of. The Claremont Club has their pool rules posted on signs at each pool and they go over the rules extensively during lifeguard training.
Altree said a copy of the rules is included in their lifeguard books at each pool for quick reference. “Copies of the pool rules are handed out to each swim lesson patron in a welcome letter,” she explained. “Pool rules and water safety is the topic for our children swim lessons once every two weeks on safety day. Additionally, a copy of the pool rules is available at the front desk for members who inquire about them.”
While having trained staff and a strategic safety plan in place is key, it is not effective unless your staff actually enforce the rules at hand.
VASA Fitness, with locations in Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois, implemented a new schedule at their facility to ensure a staff member is always on alert during business hours.
“We have signage in our pool areas to remind members of our pool health and safety rules during this time,” said Lori Pitz, the district manager at VASA. “Our general managers also spot check our pool area cameras throughout the day to ensure rules are being followed.”
Altree said consistency in rules and enforcing them can help everyone have peace of mind when enjoying club pools and will limit risk.
“For instance, we have had a no flotation devices rule at the club for many years now, and I believe this is key in reducing risk of drowning,” she explained. “I feel flotation devices give parents or guardians of young children a false sense of security and cause them to feel like they do not need to watch their child. The more eyes on each individual pool user, the better.”
According to Jim Goodwin, the director of aquatics at Chelsea Piers Fitness, the best way to enforce rules is by prioritizing communication. In his experience, Goodwin said when a member or patron understands the why of a rule, they are much more likely to leave having had a positive interaction and experience. Inflatable water wings are a great example of what the club doesn’t allow.
“Every seasoned lifeguard knows the inherent danger of a water wing losing air or falling off of a child,” said Goodwin. “Many parents do not and assume they are buying a product that makes their child safe in the water when exactly the opposite is true. Taking a minute to introduce yourself and talk to a patron instead of simply enforcing the rule grows their understanding and trust in your facility.”
Another way for members to trust the way your facility is handling aquatics risk management is through proper lifeguard training and management.
Over the years, there will be natural attrition on lifeguards. Goodwin said as a facility manager you must constantly invest in the next generation of your staff, so your standards and policies remain consistent.
“Creating a few key positions of lifeguard captains or head lifeguards and promoting from within shows your staff you value and recognize hard work in their position,” said Goodwin. “Ensuring you have lifeguard instructors on staff to maintain certifications and holding regular in-service trainings will keep them confident in their skills and prepared for the job.”
Altree agreed lifeguard management is a very important factor in keeping members safe. Lifeguards at The Claremont Club are not allowed to have their cell phones near them while working. Plus, they are alone while guarding to limit socializing and do not rotate often to discourage socializing between them. Altree said they also do routine pool checks to limit risk around their pool decks.
“I feel it is important to have a mature and experienced lead or head lifeguard, in addition to myself, who can walk from pool to pool and supervise the lifeguards,” said Altree. “While this is not feasible 100% of the time, numerous surprise visits to the poolside by supervising staff tend to make the guards more vigilant in their jobs.”
Having staff, patrons and management acknowledge there are risks associated in aquatics programming, and remaining vigilant and prepared for those situations, is the first step to take. Having training, enforcing rules and encouraging open communication with your members can help lower and combat these risks further.
This interview was conducted before The Claremont Club announced their closure after 47 years. We thank the team for their many years of service.