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One swimming pool drowning and one near drowning

In January 2023, a hotel guest was found unresponsive in the hotel swimming pool by another guest. First aid was provided and she was transported to hospital but later died.

In November 2022, a child participating in a regular school swimming lesson was found unconscious in the shallow end of the pool. The child was immediately retrieved and thankfully revived after CPR was performed.

Safety issues

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, including pool staff, parents and guardians
  • 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.

Publicly accessible swimming pools may also include other hazards such as:

  • slips, trips and falls from wet surfaces, sloping surfaces, uneven pathways, people running, and obstacles around the pool
  • hazardous pool chemicals located on site
  • unsecured objects such as rescue equipment, umbrellas, sunshades, outdoor furniture which can become projectiles during strong winds
  • hazardous manual tasks such as moving and lifting furniture and large inflatable structures
  • communicable diseases such as waterborne infections
  • an increased risk of electric shock where water is present.

Swimming pools are used by a range of people including the elderly, persons undergoing rehabilitation, children and young people as an avenue for having fun and managing health. However, drownings do occur and are tragic, especially when children and young people are involved.

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

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 and duties under the Safety in Recreational Water Activities 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.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

Similar to the incidents mentioned above, you can manage the health and safety risks of operating a public swimming pool by:

  • conducting an aquatic supervision risk assessment
  • preparing a supervision plan
  • providing trained pool lifeguards
    • 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.
  • providing pool supervisors and first aid officers
  • ensuring that all people with limited swimming competency such as children, young people, persons with disabilities or persons from an ethnic background or country who are not strong swimmers are accompanied by adults who are capable of supervising 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)
  • clearly instructing young swimmers wearing swimming caps to not misuse the swim caps, for eg. not to pull their swim caps over their faces
  • 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 person of poor swimming ability, regardless of age, is removed from the water by a staff member
  • strongly encouraging adults supervising young swimmers to consider, where possible, not having the swimmer wear a cap or swim attire that closely matches the colour of the pool
  • prohibiting and monitoring unplanned or unsupervised activities such as diving, and 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
  • managing infection risks (e.g. by following recommended pool water quality and operational guidelines, providing people using the pool with information about good hygiene in the water, maintaining facilities such as change rooms in a clean and hygienic condition)
  • restricting entry to areas of increased risk or that require higher levels of swimming competency (e.g. slides, diving boards, deep water).


The Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) has practical guidance for pool operators: Guidelines for Safe Pool Operation (GSPO). The supervision component of the guidelines provides practical guidance for operators on the type, quantity and location of supervision recommended within an aquatic environment relative to the site, situations, weather, events, threats or other non-standard situations.

The GSPO provides practical guidance for duty holders on determining the type, quantity and location of supervision needed within an aquatic environment.

Duty holders have a duty to manage risks to health and safety, in order to comply with their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The WHS Act applies to the operation of public pools where there is no organised recreational water activity. Where a duty holder provides an organised recreational water activity under their management and control (e.g. organised swimming lessons or aqua-aerobics classes), the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 may also apply.

First aid

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.

Helpful 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
  • 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.

More information

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