Managing the wide range of risk that exists in the aquatic environment is a constant balancing act. State and local codes require that aquatics facility operators follow specific rules and safety regulations, but often operators determine how to best manage all other risk.

Specific risks can vary significantly between facilities, depending on size, design, attractions, use levels and other characteristics. But applying the basic five-step strategy described below can help reduce the frequency and severity of injuries, and minimize potential liability exposure.

To illustrate how to use the risk management decision-making process, consider a risk common to almost all aquatics facilities: the lack of guardian supervision of children.

1. Identify the Risk

Simply put, young children are high-risk patrons for drowning and injury at aquatics facilities. Increased supervision by guardians will reduce this risk.

To evaluate the level of risk and set a bench mark, begin by reviewing available rescue statistics, incident reports and related records that may provide insight as to the level and frequency of child/guardian supervision problems at your facility. Also speak directly to your lifeguards, who likely have undocumented firsthand knowledge of child supervision problems.

2. Examine Alternatives

Risk reduction techniques to address the supervision of children may include:

  • Not allowing children to use your aquatics facility (exposure avoidance)
  • Establishing minimum age levels for youngsters to be unsupervised and/or for a child to supervise another child
  • Establishing and enforcing group child-to-guardian supervision ratios
  • Educating the public on the need for supervising young children at aquatics facilities
  • Educating pool patrons as to their responsibilities in supervising children
  • Educating large groups that regularly attend or may rent your facility
  • Educating your staff in how to manage situations where guardians are not supervising youngsters.

3. Select the Best Technique(s)

Next, select a technique or combination of techniques from the options you have identified. To aid in the selection, it can be helpful to seek additional advice from industry experts and/or other advisers, including legal counsel, insurance or risk management professionals, regulatory agencies, lifeguard certification agencies, professional organizations, industry professionals, manufacturer's representatives, coaches, lifeguards, patrons and other stakeholders.

4. Implement the Technique

Once you’ve developed a strategy, form an implementation plan and begin employing the risk management technique(s) you’ve selected. This can happen all at once or, given budget and operational needs, phased in over time. For example, if you decide to better educate your patrons on the importance of guardian supervision of children, you might visually increase attention to supervision responsibilities and drowning prevention awareness by creating posters and pamphlets, and produce poolside public address announcements for them to hear.

5. Monitor the Results

After implementing risk management solutions, careful monitoring and evaluation is essential to assess the results.

  • Observe, monitor and document supervision-related incidents for future comparison.
  • Interview and meet with lifeguards, managers, coaches and patrons.
  • Review incident and accident reports.
  • Stay informed on industry-related trends, incidents and best practices.

Also, always be open to modifying your risk management plans to prevent and minimize future injury and losses. The risk management process outlined can and should be used throughout your aquatics program. It can be applied to risks such as emergency response planning, adaptive aquatics; and sexual abuse prevention. With proper consideration, it can greatly assist in bringing balance to the ongoing battle between preventing/minimizing risk and providing a fun, competitive aquatic experience.

About the Instructors

Kevin Hoffman is director of member services at the Park District Risk Management Agency, an intergovernmental risk management group in Illinois. He is responsible for PDRMA's Risk Management Services Division. Hoffman has more than 25 years of experience in risk management and is a published author in the area of aquatics.

Bill Hooker is the training program supervisor at PDRMA, responsible for development and implementation of education/training and risk management programs. He has more than 20 years’ experience and has developed a wide range of aquatics related risk management and training resources.