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Safety at swimming pools

In December, a young girl was pulled from a local swimming pool unresponsive. Thankfully though, she quickly recovered. The girl was at the pool for school-based activities.

Also, in December, a member of public was pulled from a swimming pool unresponsive. Unfortunately, the man couldn’t be revived. It appears he may have suffered a medical episode.

In November, a 20-year-old man was also pulled from the bottom of a swimming pool. Sadly, he later passed away.

Safety issues

Swimming pools are used mainly by children and young people as an avenue for having fun. However, drownings do occur and are tragic, especially when children are involved.

There are substantial penalties in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Act) if it is found a pool operator has not taken adequate steps to prevent a person drowning.

Lifeguards play a critical role in preventing drownings. The most critical skills for a lifeguard are those that prevent drownings. Pool operators must ensure lifeguards are constantly vigilant, attentive and rescue ready.

The Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) has developed guidelines, in consultation with the aquatics industry across Australia, to provide advice to the industry on the minimum requirements to prevent or minimise the risk of drowning in publicly accessible pools.

The supervision component of the guidelines provides practical guidance for operators on the type, quantity and location of supervision needed within an aquatic environment.

A pool operator should manage health and safety risks by:

  • conducting an aquatic supervision risk assessment
  • preparing a supervision plan
  • providing trained pool lifeguards, pool supervisors and first aid officers
  • ensuring young people or people with limited swimming competency such as children are accompanied by adults who need to supervise them
  • ensuring children under five years of age are constantly supervised by an appropriate parent/guardian who is prepared to swim (adequate supervision means the parent/guardian must accompany the child in the water and always remain within arm’s reach)
  • ensuring children under ten years of age are constantly accompanied by an adult while in the aquatic area
  • ensure unsupervised children under five years of age are removed from the water and placed in a safe area until collected by the parent/guardian
  • ensuring an unsupervised child of poor swimming ability, regardless of age, is removed from the water by a staff member
  • prohibiting and monitoring activities such as diving, running and hypoxic training
  • providing information or signage about pool safety (e.g. accompanying adults to supervise their children, prohibited activities, pool depth)
  • removing or prohibiting the use of permanent or semi-permanent flotation devices when there is no supervision of their use
  • restricting entry to areas of increased risk or that require higher levels of swimming competency (e.g. slides, diving boards, deep water).

Public swimming pools and aquatic facilities present a number of health and safety hazards, including those which increase the risk of drowning, such as:

  • large bodies of water often with many people using them at the same time
  • users of all ages with varying levels of swimming experience
  • design or construction of the pool hindering line of sight of supervisors
  • pool depths that change suddenly
  • the presence of personal buoyancy devices (floaties, tubes) or large water-borne inflatable devices permanently or semi-permanently located in pools for common use (slides, bouncing castles, line ropes) which may impair the vision of adults or those supervising pool activities
  • slips, trips and falls from wet surfaces.

First aid and emergency situations should be covered by ensuring:

  • an effective emergency plan is in place and is tested regularly
  • resuscitation signage is clearly visible
  • appropriate access to first aid equipment and trained first aid officers
  • first aid officers are properly trained and can administer an advanced level of first aid and resuscitation (such as administering oxygen or using an automated external defibrillator)
  • first aid facilities and equipment are appropriate to the size of the pool facility.

Pool operators are reminded that important information for the safe running of the pool facility can be found in the Guidelines for Safe Pool Operations which is released by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia.

The guidelines also cover:

  • safe pool operations
  • guidance for pool operators as a minimum standard for running their pools.
  • water safety
  • guidance for aquatic environments operated by bodies corporate, hotels, motels, camping and caravan grounds, commercial learn to swim schools and school pools and aquatic environments that are part of urban water developments
  • water safety - body corporate pools
  • guidance for aquatic amenities such as residential units, apartment blocks, high rise style apartments and retirement villages.
  • water safety - hotel, motel, camping and caravan grounds
  • guidance for any swimming pool and/or spa facility within a resort, hotel, motel, camping or caravan ground environment
  • water safety - commercial learn to swim and school pools
  • guidance for any swimming pool and/or spa facility within a commercial learn to swim environment of a swimming pool or a pool located at a school.
  • water safety - urban water developments
  • guidance for purpose-built water environments near or around areas where the general public may go, e.g. parkland and reserves.

The guidelines are available at Royal Life Saving Society - Australia website.

The RLSSA also produces fact sheets and national polices to assist swimming pool operators and inspectors.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: