In March this year (2017) the UK’s Mirror carried an article about a Coroner’s Inquest that was underway into the fatal drowning of a 3 year old boy, 18 months prior.

I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing that these events are increasingly being caught on surveillance cameras. Certainly, for the courts it removes any doubt around how the event happened, but for families and those involved it must be debilitating. Those last moments when a small child need us, and we’re not there are difficult enough to imagine let alone watch.

Stories like this appear everyday from around the world. This particular one caught my eye because it’s an aspect I talk about when delivering on site training; spas and spa seats in pools.

In Australia, in the absence of specific aquatic safety legislation we have the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia’s Guidelines for Safe Pool Operation (GSPO). When we get to court the GSPO, despite being “just guidelines”, can be referenced heavily.

Lifeguards need to know that when they get to court, their performance will be measured against the GSPO. In Australia, I hardly meet a lifeguard who even knows what the GSPO is let alone what it says. It’s a current failing of ours. How can a lifeguard do what the GSPO says, if she doesn’t know it exists?

Of the hundreds of individual guidelines contained in the GSPO, the one that poses the greatest pitfall for lifeguards, must be SU1 5.3a; Lifeguards should be positioned to maintain continual supervision of the water…. lifeguards need to be mobile… with a clear line of sight for the surface and floor of the pool.

When in the witness box, and being asked; ‘from your position on the pool deck, did you have a clear line of sight of the surface and the floor of the pool’… you want your answer to be ‘yes’. If not then your performance was outside that which has been established as the standard. And this is where spas and spa seats don’t play fair.

The Pool Super Vision™ program identifies disturbance as being one of the seven factors which can create Dead Water; an area of pool which cannot be seen because of factors specific to water, pool design or human behaviour. Disturbance includes those bubbles in spas that little kids find so enticing.

For a lifeguard to be absolutely sure that no one is in a spa that appears to be unoccupied, they need to turn the spa off and let the bubbles clear, or if that isn’t possible, then at the very least grab a pool scoop and have a feel around in the bottom, as grizzly as that sounds. In pool test trials (image at the top of the page) I have filmed my manikin in his red long sleeve shirt, remain completely undetectable for 2 minutes in the spa seat area of a pool.

Two people in the spa can be a relatively safe situation. It is reasonable to assume that if anything happens to one person then the other will raise the alarm. But a single person on the other hand is a situation that requires additional supervision; lifeguards.

And if your centre is designed with a water body outside the change room, as it was in the UK example, then we know it takes but a moments distraction or a nimble kid to turn a 30-minute fun swim into a lifetime of guilt, regret and sadness.

Parents; Do your best. The cost is too horrible to even think about.

Lifeguards; if the spa is in your area of responsibility, make sure you really have, 100%, checked the surface and the floor. A spa is still a pool.

Trainers; Talk to lifeguards about the content of relevant guidelines every chance you get.

Managers; if the spa or a spa seat area in your centre can’t be easily stopped and restarted from pool deck, then get a quote to make it so. Then put together a budget bid or business case, whatever your justification process is, and send it up the food chain for consideration. If there is a body of water that is poorly positioned or that has a track record of incidents, consider barriers and other measures.

Only together can we truly provide safer public swimming facilities.

It is with heavy consideration for the Kennedy family and the other people involved, that I reference the fatal incident mentioned above.