For most pool operators, insurance is just another necessary cost, a budget item that quite often is too big, and seemingly offers too little in return. But insurance allows us to do together, as a community committed to aquatic safety, what we cannot do individually. The idea is to share risk and, most importantly, save lives.
By purchasing insurance, a business transfers its risk of loss to another party (the insurance company) in return for the payment of premiums. This allows an individual aquatics facility to continue to operate even in the face of severe loss, such as a drowning death.
The analysis of our data, and on-site evaluations of thousands of facilities, identifies three key areas that pool operators can focus on to keep their pools safe.
First and foremost, certified and focused lifeguards help ensure swimmers are safe. Most pools need multiple lifeguards on duty, actively scanning at all times that the pool is in operation, especially when children—who have the highest risk of drowning — are present.
But just putting a body in an elevated chair is not enough; lifeguards need to be set up for success, and held accountable for their behavior. Like all employees, guards will do their jobs better when given clear expectations and held accountable through frequent “quick checks,” observations and audits.
Many consider the deep end of the pool the most dangerous, but data shows that even with lifeguards on duty, the majority of submersion injuries involve nonswimmers in the shallow end of the pool, which has less than 5 feet of water.
To protect the most vulnerable individuals in the water, we first need to identify them. Offer a swim test to unknown swimmers, and visibly mark them so staffers can distinguish swimmers from nonswimmers.
Young nonswimmers are at highest risk, and you can further protect them by requiring that they remain within arm’s reach of a parent of caregiver. They should be actively engaged with a staff member in an activity or lesson. If that’s not an option, nonswimmers should wear life jackets.
New injury-prevention technology may be the most effective way to reduce losses. To ensure that every person in the water is safe, embrace new technology to assist your lifeguards. Drowning detection and prevention technology is not yet standard at all pools, but practical and effective options are currently installed and being tested in several facilities with good results. Similar to what happened with the adoption of seat belts or AEDs (in the case of aquatics), as more facilities adopt technology to assist lifeguards, the standard of care may change.
When it comes to insurance, most pool operators will need certain types. First, a general liability policy covering property damage and personal injury to third parties is a must. This is similar to what an individual would get from a homeowner’s policy, but specific to a commercial business. Many options and coverages are available, including medical payments coverage for injuries to guests (often regardless of fault), errors and omissions, covering liability due to the decisions of leadership (such as wrongful termination) and endorsements to cover sexual abuse.
Second is a Worker’s Compensation policy. Required and closely regulated by the state, it covers injuries to employees (subject to conditions) regardless of fault. Additionally, an errors and omissions policy should be obtained.
Third would be policies for anything not covered. For example, auto, if your organization owns or operates a vehicle. Furthermore, depending on the size of your organization, you may need a directors and officers liability policy, to cover members of the board of directors.
About the Instructors
Kevin Trapani is president/CEO of The Redwoods Group, which he founded in 1997 to serve the JCC, YMCA and camp communities. He grew up at the YMCA and has worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and aquatics director.
Gareth Hedges is associate general counsel for The Redwoods Group. A lifeguard for 14 years, Hedges has been certified by the American Red Cross, YMCA of the USA, Starfish Aquatic Institute, and Ellis and Associates. He has written several articles and presentations on drowning prevention, aquatics and liability.