Investigations into several incidents at aquatics facilities around the country have raised concerns over the attentiveness and professionalism of pool staffs. Perhaps the most serious cases involved drownings at the Great America theme park near San Francisco; at the Community Center in Mason, Ohio; and at the United Cerebral Palsy Dennis James Center near Palm Springs, Calif.

At Great America, a 4-year-old boy drowned in the wave pool last summer. A recently released Department of Industrial Relations investigation report concluded the boy had been floating for 39 seconds before guards found him; they were unclear about the boundaries of their specific watch zones; and four of the six guards on duty had been at their posts for more than 90 minutes.

The report also contained a series of corrective actions, which, according to Cal-OSHA spokerswoman Kate McGuire, the park was required to implement before reopening. These included:

  • Every child under 42 inches, and persons needing special considerations, must be accompanied in the wave pool by an adult
  • A personal flotation device policy for children under 48 inches
  • A maximum time period for guards at any one location
  • A retraining of guards on the 10/20 scanning rules, zone locations and any new policies.

The accident prompted State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) to introduce a bill creating statewide standards for adult supervision, life jacket requirements and lifeguard staffing. The legislation is still pending. In Mason, Ohio, as of press time, officials are investigating allegations of inattentive lifeguards in the wake of an April drowning at the Mason Community Center pool. A toddler drowned while celebrating his fourth birthday this spring. According to reports in the local press, another parent told a Community Center committee that guards had asked his young daughter to investigate a floating object and inform them as to whether it was fecal matter. No one in Mason could be reached for comment.

In Palm Springs, Calif., an investigation was mounted after the January drowning of a 5-year-old autistic girl. She was at a hydrotherapy session overseen by employees of the United Cerebral Palsy Dennis James Center. Two of the staff members were employees of the Palm Springs Unified School District. Authorities concluded there was no criminal negligence, though a spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney’s office told local media the victim’s family might file a wrongful death lawsuit.