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Managing the risks of public swimming pools

Operators of public swimming pools have a duty to manage the risks associated with the use of the facility in order to comply with their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act).

The WHS Act requires all persons who conduct a business or undertaking (such as pool operators and owners) to ensure the health and safety of workers and others (such as patrons) so far as is reasonably practicable.

Duty holders must ensure health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, by eliminating risks to health and safety and, if this is not possible, by minimising risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

In determining how to manage the risks, duty holders should consider all factors specific to their facility. This includes considering how these factors may change day-to-day or depending on the number of patrons attending the facility. A site-specific risk assessment should be undertaken to determine the level of supervision required and what is ‘reasonably practicable’.  In many cases a combination of control measures will be required to minimise the risks to health and safety.

Patrons utilising pool facilities also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others. This includes parents, guardians and caregivers ensuring adequate supervision of children and others with low swimming ability under their care at all times.

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, aqua-aerobics classes), the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 may also apply.

Ways to manage health and safety

There are a range of measures to ensure the risks to health and safety at pool facilities are effectively managed. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia’s Guidelines for Safe Pool Operations (GSPO), is a resource with practical guidance for duty holders on the type, quantity and location of supervision recommended within a pool environment.

A summarised extract from the GSPO defines recommended supervision in an aquatic facility as a minimum of one person over the age of 18 who:

  • holds a current skill set equivalent to that of pool lifeguard
  • is in a position to maintain effective supervision of all persons on, below the surface and the bottom of the swimming pool (or their zone)
  • is able to respond to and reach a person in distress in the swimming pool within 30 seconds.

The primary objective of a pool lifeguard at a pool location is to supervise patrons within the pool environment and to assist in preventing drowning. It is also important to remind and inform caregivers that, regardless of the presence of a lifeguard, they must closely supervise their children and dependents. As drownings are often silent and with little movement, a combination of the presence of a pool lifeguard and diligent supervision by caregivers is recommended.

The RSLA guideline is helpful guidance for pool operators in assisting in managing the risk of drowning and the provision of lifeguards. The duty holder must also consider what other control measures are available to prevent the risk of drowning taking into account the specific risks associated with their facility. Supervision both by caregivers and lifeguards is an important aspect of public pool safety however all risks associated with the pool facility must be assessed and managed so far as reasonably practicable.

What is ‘reasonably practicable’ is an objective test

What is ‘reasonably practicable’ is determined objectively. This means that a duty holder must meet the standard of behaviour expected of a reasonable person in the duty holder’s position and who is required to comply with the same duty.

There are two elements to what is ‘reasonably practicable’. A duty holder must first consider what can be done, that is, what is possible in the circumstances for ensuring health and safety. They must then consider what is reasonably able to be done, in the circumstances to eliminate or minimise the risk.

Duty holders must take into account the likelihood of the hazard or the risk occurring; and the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk. The more likely the hazard or risk is, or the greater the harm that may result from the hazard, the less weight should be given to the cost of eliminating the hazard or risk.

Use our Supervision at public swimming pools – Self-assessment tool (DOCX, 0.05 MB) to minimise the risk of safety hazards to staff and patrons.