YMCA fined for waterfront safety violations


Although the following incident does not involve a Redwoods insured facility, we want to impress upon you the role each of us plays in providing a safe environment.

“YMCA fined for waterfront safety violations”

NORTHEAST TOWN: 12/31/2005 – The County Board of Health only issued one sanitary code fine during 2005 and that was to the YMCA. The Y paid a $1,000 fine for safety violations on the waterfront of their Lake [Name] camp that occurred last summer.

The fine cited a lack of proper supervision of children participating in activities on the waterfront stating that “young children were not constantly watched while they were in the water.”

The YMCA camp was audited twice last summer, once two days after opening for the summer and again two weeks later. Because the YMCA had signed a consent order to correct similar infractions just two years earlier the Department of Health's Environmental Health Division inspector referred the violations to a fact finding hearing of the county Board of Health.

During the October 25th hearing, both YMCA officials and the environmental health staff presented their side of the matter to an independent hearing officer.

A $1,000 fine was recommended in that session as a sanction for the multiple violations found during the two visits. They included failure to consistently monitor young children when they were in the water, failure to utilize the buddy system (a protocol whereby lifeguards have swimmers hold up their buddy’s hand in order to quickly account for everyone who is in the waterfront area) that the YMCA had filed before the start of the season, and a lifeguard whose documentation was not filed with the health department.

The hearing’s officer took the YMCA to task for remarks made during their defense at the hearing, citing testimony that included a statement indicating that the YMCA “could certainly not be expected to meet every letter of the law.” The response in his ruling said “I firmly disagree and would indicate that when the people we are dealing with are small children in and around water that the very letter of the law must be met and if possible, even exceeded.”

His findings and recommendation were accepted by the eight-member Board of Health during their November meeting.

The YMCA’s executive director indicated that the violations were taken care of as soon as they were found during the summer inspections. “Ensuring the safety of kids is a very high priority,” he said.

[County Official] directed the camp director to meet with environmental health staff to review the camp's safety plan two weeks prior to the camp's next opening

[YMCA Executive Director] is confident that there will not be any further problems at the camp. “We committed some violations, and we need to correct them and we are sure that we will.”

What we know:

  • The facility was cited for a “lack of complete and proper supervision of children participating in activities on the waterfront.” This included inconsistent supervision and other violations.
  • The facility had written policies and procedures acceptable to the county but was found deficient in implementation of those policies and procedures; i.e. their practices did not follow their policies.
  • This was the second time in three summers that similar aquatic supervision deficiencies were noted by the county.

What we don’t know:

  • The extent to which the staff failed to monitor the children in the water
  • The details of the camp’s policies for supervision and the buddy system
  • The measures the organization took to address the noted deficiencies
  • The clarity of the water in the swimming area…was it like most lakes where visibility decreases rapidly below the surface or was it as clear as a flat water swimming pool?
  • Whether the guards had appropriate training…if their training was normal lifeguard training for flat water pools, they may not have received training in the dangers and exposures of lake swimming.

What we should understand:

  • Every aquatic facility is held accountable for its performance by multiple stakeholders. These stakeholders include the state and local health departments and insurance companies, but most important are those who participate in the camp experience, their parents, and the camp staff.
  • The board of health cited the Y on only two days…one on each of the days they visited the camp. However, there probably were campers in the water nearly every day. Staff must provide constant supervision of the swimming area whenever it is in use as a drowning normally happens quickly and silently and can occur at any time to anyone who is in the water.
  • A $1,000 board of health fine for lack of waterfront supervision is a relatively minor penalty. Perhaps of more impact is the health department’s decision to bring the matter to a hearing that would be publicized in the newspaper instead of allowing it to be quietly paid and put to rest. Both are insignificant to the sizable settlement frequently paid after a drowning that resulted from a lifeguard’s lack of appropriate supervision. Neither begin to compare to the emotional devastation that follows any premature loss of life.
  • A statutory penalty is not just a fine. It is potentially the basis for and evidence in a civil suit. In some instances it may be deemed prima facie negligence or negligence per se, in which the fact that the event occurred proves negligent behavior without further examination of the facts.
  • Repeated violations open the door for claimants to imply that a pattern of negligence exists. If the court and/or jury agree it might increase the settlement amount and could complicate matters even more by introducing the possibility of punitive damages.
  • The real issue is not about potential…it is about practice; not about individual behavior but about culture; not about whether or not lifeguards can supervise properly but about whether they consistently do supervise properly.
    • The Executive Director stated that the violations were corrected as soon as the inspections identified them, yet two weeks later the same violations were observed. That does not show the pattern of corrective action that could be beneficial in case of litigation.
    • It is more important to develop a culture that does not accept inadequate behavior than to take corrective action when inadequate behavior is identified. The former proactively keeps kids safe, the later reactively corrects behavior some of the times when they are not.

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 JCC risk management issues.


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