Prevention of Accidents – What is Prevention?

Often when a tragedy occurs at an aquatic facility, one of the first complaints that arise is the lack of prevention. When I ask people, “So what is prevention?” Generally I get confused looks and comments such as “You know, prevention – stop things from happening!” So I ask again, “And what does prevention look like? What do we do that amounts to prevention?”

Most people define prevention as stopping the customer from doing dangerous activities. And that people is only one aspect of prevention – rule enforcement.

Prevention is accomplished on the many levels including:

Facility risk analysis

Determine risks

This requires an in-depth inspection of your facility preferably in the design phase. Often professionals and experts are brought in to assist including safety specialists. The Lifesaving Society Canada provides just such a service.

Eliminate risks

Once the obvious risks are identified, eliminate those identified where practical.

Control and manage risks

Those risk areas that can not be eliminated are controlled and managed to the best of the operation’s ability. This may include physical barriers, etc.

Rule and Policy creation, review, and enforcement

Create rules and guidelines on every aspect of the operation and ensure there is a enforcement method. i.e. One person on the diving board at a time. Walk on the deck – no running.

Public education

Some rules are not obvious to the untrained. This may be the patrons first experience in a leisure aquatic environment. Education can take place in many forms including:

  • Signage (in multiple languages)
  • Pictograms – See the rule as a picture
  • Programs that target safety, swimming skills, first aid, etc
  • Talking to patrons

Public education also includes the importance of parental or caregiver supervision.

If you’re not within arm’s reach, you’ve gone too far!

Parental supervision includes parents, babysitters, spouses, school teachers, teachers aids, special needs workers, “the buddy system”, etc.

Encourage people to choose a supervised swim area over a unsupervised swim area. “Supervised” means with certified Lifeguards.

Educating caregivers on the signs of drowning is very helpful.

Effective hiring practices

Much grief can be eliminated by hiring quality people from the start.

Lifeguard training and education

The training Lifeguards receive from the various agencies is just the start. Employers are expected (by law in some areas) to provide pre-hire and regular ongoing training for all staff.

Supervision and scanning

Ensure that the Lifeguarding staff know what is expected when they are guarding. This comes down to which techniques for scanning are to be employed. Where are the Guards positioned? Establishing Lifeguard position Diagrams for the various bather loads and conditions is crucial.

Performance audits of the Lifeguards

This could look like a “secret shopper” or an unannounced detailed analysis of the Lifeguards and rescue equipment.

Personal accountability

Develop a culture where it is okay to error and admit it. If we all learn from the error, we can prevent it from reoccurring.

Maintaining standards through regular testing of the staff’s skills and fitness

  • Testing bonafide occupational requirements is a good way to ensure skill and fitness retention.
  • Create incentives such as no-charge use of the facility.

Effective leadership to reinforce and enforce the training and job expectations of the Lifeguards

If the leadership of the organization ignores unsafe practices, they are in effect condoning these practices. Develop the leadership team from the front line and up. Support the leadership team.

Prevention is in fact a collection of elements that greatly reduce the risk to all swimmers.

Hopefully this article gives everyone a good start with the subject of Prevention.

Lloyd Plueschow