5 Essential Steps for Swimming Pool Safety

Damian Hall BA, IOSA Tech, RLSS UK Senior Consultant

An Easy Step by Step Guide To Make Your Pool Is Fun, Efficient and Safe This Summer

There are many drivers for taking swimming pool safety seriously, but for the sake of brevity let’s focus on the three key ones: The first is a simple moral obligation – we care about each other and we want to make sure no-one gets hurt. Children especially can be vulnerable around pools and that vulnerability escalates dramatically when we’re dealing with young children and non-swimmers – and there are usually plenty of these on a busy holiday park.

Compliance and `defendability’

The second driver is the law. There are a number of laws, regulations and guidance documents which set out quite clearly what is required in terms of pool safety. If we fail to meet those requirements we’ll almost certainly be breaking the law. Holiday Park Operators can be vulnerable to enforcement action which could include pool closure and ultimately prosecution. In the event of a serious incident, legal breaches will almost certainly inform private legal action. It’s very difficult to defend a private action if we’ve already been found to have broken the law.

A Safe Pool is an efficient Pool

The third driver is effectiveness. As a guiding principle, a swimming pool (or any operational department for that matter) that’s being run safely is almost certainly going to be efficient and effective – being productive, saving money and making a contribution to the bottom line.

Children and Vulnerability

It’s so easy to get complacent. It may help to reflect for a moment on the fact that not all drowning’s are fatal. A child being deprived of oxygen to the brain for anything more than a few moments (it’s impossible to identify a specific amount of time) is likely to experience some degree of impairment to brain function. This can extend to serious brain damage and the truly dreadful life-long consequences.

So, the five key areas which are absolutely essential for effective and defendable safety management are:

Step One – Risk Assessment. A systematic documented identification of how people might be harmed, specifically in your pool/s and what controls are in place to minimise these risks to an acceptable level.

In terms of supervision the risk assessment will determine whether you should have Lifeguards, Emergency Responders, Trained Observers or a combination of, or variation on that theme. Key guidance on the issue of supervision can be found in the HSE publication HSG 179 `Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools’ page 54 onwards. Available free as a download from the HSE website.

Step Two – Normal Operating Plans. Responding to findings of Risk Assessment and detailing how the pool operates on a practical day to day basis. Everything from opening times, rules, guest communications, water quality checks and cleaning rotas to supervision arrangements, schedules and operation and maintenance of alarm systems. If written carefully this can also serve as your safe systems of work for employees – a requirement of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Step Three – Emergency Action Plan. Itemising the kinds of emergencies which, realistically, could happen and identifying exactly how they would be managed. Who does what, when, where and how.

Step Four – Training. Focussed on meeting capability requirements identified in Risk Assessment and ideally supported by recognised qualifications see rlss.org.gov for more on Lifeguard awards.

None of this is rocket science and we’re not necessarily talking about lot’s of paperwork. It’s another myth that good risk assessments are big weighty documents. Brief, concise and accurate is much better. But, you do need to know what you’re doing. And you definitely need to do what you say you’re going to do – so we should be careful about what our operating plan says. As you write it do two things: one, ask yourself does this make sense? or have I gone off into a health and safety gobbledygook. Simple plain English is always best and two, imagine yourself having to defend it in the witness box – are you confident that what your saying is authentic and credible? Now make sure that all relevant staff understand the operating plans. This in itself requires some thought and engagement. It’s not enough to hand someone a copy and say “read it”. Full understanding is likely to require an initial consultation, probably a training session, some practice and review – then individual sign off.

Step Five – Review. Regularly, periodically, and definitely after an incident, have a look at your operational systems and procedures, ideally including relevant personnel, and ask if they are still fit for purpose.

It may help to think of each of these steps as inter-linked and inter-dependent. Each has a relationship with the others. One final tip concerns originality and creativity. Just because things have been done a certain way for ages doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.


Potential for improvement lies in the use of technology including underwater cameras and drowning prevention systems which can add a highly effective supplement to your supervision arrangements. Win wins can also be found in water safety programmes such as the RLSS UK Rookie Lifeguard Awards which can be an excellent vehicle for safety messages as well as great fun for children, parents and staff.

In closing it may help to consider that for your guests you pool will be an absolutely vital part of their holiday experience and, depending on your site and the weather they are likely to be spending a great deal of time in this area – so apart from safety it’s worth getting it right.

Damian Hall BA, IOSA Tech, RLSS UK Senior Consultant

Damian Hall, BA, IOSH Tech, RLSS UK Senior Consultant

Hall Associates 07855 [email protected]


September 9, 2014


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