Test, Mark, and Protect Non-Swimmers

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Nineteen people, mostly children, drowned in YMCA swimming pools between 2002 and 2004. Most did not know how to swim and it appears that none were swim tested. An analysis of the data from these incidents plus the near drowning incidents of the same period reveals some alarming facts. The shallow end of the pool was where five of the thirteen deaths occurred in 2002, three of the four deaths in 2003, and one of the at least two in 2004. Three more nearly drowned there in 2004. Most of the kids involved in these incidents were between four and six years old. All drowning deaths are preventable and constitute a tragic loss, but losing a child in the shallow end is unconscionable.

Between 2007 and 2012, Redwoods investigated hundreds of aquatic injuries, including 53 drowning injuries involving non-swimmers, of which 4 resulted in fatalities. All took place in guarded YMCA pools. Consistent with the data from previous years, we found that the vast majority of these injuries took place in the shallow end of the pool and involved children less than eight years old.

Many YMCAs do not test the swimming capabilities of unknown swimmers, but the above tragic statistics demonstrate the need to develop and implement swim test protocols and then protect all non-swimmers, even if they are in shallow water. An increasing number of Ys, both independently and working in conjunction with The Redwoods Group, are now successfully testing swimmers of unknown ability, especially participants of special use groups like day camp, rental groups, and birthday parties.

The Redwoods Group recommends the following policy for non-swimmer protection:

For all children entering the water, including all children and adults that are part of an outside group (rentals, special events, birthday parties, etc.):

Test:

Swim test to determine swimming ability. Users who do not take the test, or children under 7 years old, may be automatically designated as non-swimmers.

Mark:

Clearly mark all users to identify swimming ability.

Protect:

Most aquatic incidents happen in shallow water (3'-5'). Protect non-swimmers, especially younger children, by restricting them to the shallow end and adding additional layers of protection…
 1. The non-swimmer is actively engaged in a swim lesson or activity with staff;
 2. The non-swimmer is actively supervised, within arms reach of an adult parent or caregiver; and/or
 3. The non-swimmer is wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket.

We realize that for some YMCAs this policy may be a significant shift from current operations. Any change in policy and procedure will no doubt encounter difficulties in administration and implementation. The related document, RMT: Test, Mark, and Protect provides some ideas and best practices successfully utilized by other YMCAs in adopting this policy. Of course, each YMCA is different and a strategy that works effectively in one location may not be appropriate in another. Although new ideas and innovations regarding this policy are encouraged, the points outlined above and the spirit of the policy should be fully incorporated. Your non-swimmer protection policy should be enforced at all times without exception. Failure to do so may put your YMCA legally at risk in the event of an incident. More importantly, failure to enforce this or a similar policy leaves your swimmers at risk.

Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.

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