Water Park Drowning


OSHA weighs in on water park drowning

SANTA CLARA, CA; 04/12/2008: A horrible tragedy at a South Bay water park may, at the very least, save the lives of other children. In a report released Friday, Cal-OSHA said Great America was not in violation of any safety standards when a 4-year-old boy drowned in its wave pool last summer. The 4-year-old’s drowning may result in changes at every water park in California.

The drowning death of a 4-year-old at Great America last summer is giving way to new state regulations to insure [sic.] child safety in wave pools.

A Cal-OSHA report just released Friday, describes how some lifeguards at the water park had been at their post for longer than the recommended one hour.

The report says the boy was floating in the pool for 39 seconds. Lifeguards are trained to spot floating bodies in less than 30 seconds.

“The child was unattended in the pool, did not have an adult accompanying him. Because of that we’ve put into place several corrective actions,” said Dean Fryer, a Cal-OSHA spokesman.

Cal-OSHA is requiring that children under 42 inches tall are to be accompanied by an adult in the water. They are also mandating that children under 48 inches wear a life vest at all times in a wave pool.

“To me, they should have been in place a long time ago. It should not be an option whether you’re going to wear a life vest or anything that’s more safe in the water. It should be a priority always,” said Jamie Buckingham, a Sunnyvale Swim Complex Manager.

The new requirements seemed to meet with unanimous support at South Bay swim clubs and among Great America patrons who had first hand experience in a wave pool.

“When I was little, I did that and a wave came over me and I couldn’t get out of it and it was really scary, so I think it’s better if people wore life vests under 48 inches,“ said Celeste Hellman, a Great America patron.

“I think it’s a hassle and it’s a good thing for people trying to keep their kids safe and they don't want anymore accidents to happen,” said Sarah Rabin, a Great America patron.

Great America would not comment on camera, but issued a statement saying they started enforcing the new requirements last summer when the wave pool reopened.

Cal-OSHA says they intend to make requirements for both life vests and adult supervision a new state standard at all water parks with wave pools in California.

What we know:

  • Water is a dangerous place to play – water that moves (i.e., has waves or current) is an especially dangerous place to play… and yet children love to play in water, especially moving water
  • The California statute requires all children under 42” tall to be accompanied by an adult in the water and requires all children under 48” tall to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) whenever in a wave pool
  • A similar Ohio statute is planned

What we anticipate:

  • Other states will follow California and Ohio in the introduction of similar legislation
  • The regulations soon will be applied to other active-water attractions where there is movement of the water or the swimmer beyond what the swimmer can physically produce, e.g.,
    • lazy rivers, raging rivers, and similar attractions
    • water slides (at least those long enough to use water on the slide as a lubricant)
    • other similar water features

What must be remembered:

  • It can be argued that active-water attractions are safer than flat-water pools even with the increased hazard introduced by motion because…
    • guarding protocols and ratios are more stringent in active-water attractions specifically because of the increased hazard
    • guarding vigilance is easier to maintain in an arena of action than in an arena of inaction
      • guarding a flat-water pool, especially one that is not busy, is mind-numbingly boring
      • guarding in most active-water attractions is anything but boring – guards are often in the water so frequently that their swimsuits stay wet their entire work shift
    • guards get more rest breaks, concentration breaks, and changes of vantage point in the active-water world because of their number; sometimes a flat-water guard is alone for hours
  • The Redwoods recommended aquatic safety plan, for all pool and waterfront use is:
    • 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…
a) The non-swimmer is actively engaged in a swim lesson or activity with staff;
b) The non-swimmer is actively supervised, within arms reach of an adult parent or caregiver; or
c) The non-swimmer is wearing a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket.
  • These three things are generally true: kids love water – kids really love moving water – parents want their kids to come home unharmed
    • Providing programming that will thrill and delight kids is great
    • Ensuring that those kids and all their memories go home alive and vibrant is better
    • Don’t introduce thrills without introducing redundant safeguards to protect the kids

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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