Regulations for Safer Swimming
Water recreation includes a number of activities, including swimming, fishing, boating and surfing. These types of activities are popular throughout the United States, particularly during the warm summer months. However, the pools, lakes, and beachfront areas where water recreation takes place can pose hazards to adults and children. State and local governments have responded with laws to prevent injury or illness at public pools, waterparks and naturally occurring bodies of water. Federal agencies have also become involved on a more limited basis. State regulations for water safety can vary widely by jurisdiction, so it’s important to know what specific rules apply in the area where you operate, or want to operate, a public pool.
Common Water Safety Concerns
Perhaps the most obvious hazard related to water recreation is drowning. The number-one cause of death for children aged one to four in the United States is accidental drowning. However, adults are also at risk. From 2005 to 2014, an average of ten people of all ages died in the United States from drowning on a daily basis. With 372,000 drowning deaths reported annually, drowning is the world's leading cause of accidental death. Even if a person is rescued from drowning, he or she can suffer nonfatal injuries from remaining under the water for too long. Anoxia, or a lack of oxygen, can cause brain damage within a matter of minutes.
However, drowning or nonfatal injuries represent only one potential hazard posed by recreation in natural and/or manmade bodies of water. The following are also common safety concerns regarding water recreation:
The water can provide a habitat for bacteria with the potential to cause recreational water illnesses (RWIs). RWIs can result from cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae), which can cause serious illness with varied symptoms, as well as fecal coliform bacteria, which can cause severe diarrhea. Fecal coliform bacteria may be found in pools as well as natural bodies of water, while cyanobacteria is most commonly found in lakes and ponds. It’s now commonplace for state and local governments to have rules prohibiting swimmers from entering the pool if they have had diarrhea within the last two weeks.
Entrapment is a problem unique to swimming pools. When water rushes out of the drain of a hot tub, pool, or spa, it can create suction that can cause limbs, hair, jewelry or accessories to become stuck. Even an experienced swimmer may lack the strength to pull himself or herself free. Young people are particularly vulnerable to entrapment.
Chlorine is frequently added in solid or liquid forms to the water of a swimming pool to disinfect it. Insufficient chlorination may allow bacteria to grow. However, over-chlorination can cause potential health problems. Swimming pool codes and regulations may include chlorination guidelines to strike the right balance.
State regulations for water safety sometimes require signs advising swimmers of these risks and informing them of any applicable rules or restrictions. Incorporating water safety signs into your overall safety plan can help reduce injuries and fatalities related to swimming pools, beaches and waterparks.
State Regulations for Swim Safety
There are very few federal regulations regarding swim safety in public swimming pools. The most prominent example is the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which requires special pool drain covers and other safety mechanisms to prevent entrapment. Other than that, pool and water safety is largely left up to state governments, which sometimes delegate the responsibility to counties and municipalities.
Most states have at least some safety codes in place for public pools. Two notable exceptions are Kansas and Alabama. They each provide RWI prevention guidelines but otherwise have no state regulations for public pools. However, there are a few counties within each state that have more detailed regulations.
It’s not surprising that states in colder areas where swimming pools are less common have fewer regulations. Many of North Dakota's state regulations regarding swimming pools have been repealed, and South Dakota no longer regulates pools or public beaches at all, although it does recommend regular testing for fecal coliform bacteria.
California, on the other hand, has detailed requirements regarding health, safety, building codes, as well as prevention of drowning and entrapment in public pools. Not only that, but California also has detailed regulations regarding pool signage. Swim safety signs must carry specifically worded advisories, and there must be a sign with a diagram illustrating CPR procedures. State building codes specify how large the lettering must be on certain signs and require that they attach to a permanent structure.
Water Safety Tips
Needless to say, swimmers should observe state regulations for water safety, as well as any posted rules at a particular water recreation facility. However, there are some water safety tips that can be applied generally:
- Stay within designated swim areas
- Avoid consuming alcohol
- Stay near the lifeguards
- Avoid swimming alone
- Supervise children
- Wear a life vest
Clarion Safety Systems' pool, beach and waterpark safety signs help communicate water hazards and fulfill your legal duty to warn. Get in touch with us today to help your facility build a standards-compliant water safety communication system to effectively warn against water hazards and help keep swimmers safe from harm.