How Hotel Operators Can Prevent Pool Injuries
Regardless of intent, proper pool safety is a must for hotel operators.
The pool is one of the biggest attractions that lures guests to a hotel. A pool might be part of your fitness area, allowing travelers to keep up with their workouts, or it might be a family space, allowing parents and kids a place to splash away, even if rainy days change vacation agendas. Regardless of intent, proper pool safety is a must for hotel operators—not just to protect your establishment from bad experiences and bad reviews, but also to protect you from liability issues. Taking steps to ensure safe pool operation ahead of time frees up resources for serving guests and ensuring their experiences are the kind they’d like to repeat.
In order to keep your guests safe from harm, it can be helpful to understand the specific dangers that pools can pose. A few of the biggest pool safety concerns include:
- Injury from pool drains
- Injury from diving or jumping into shallow waters
- Injury from slipping and falling
- Skin or lung irritation from harsh chemicals
We will look at each of these risks, and some concrete steps you can take to avoid these types of injuries at your hotel pool. Additionally, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with current pool safety standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to public pools.
Current Pool Safety Standards & ADA Regulations
NSF International, the public health and safety organization, certifies pools across the country to ensure proper safety standards. The current standards were developed by a committee of manufacturers, public health officials and experts. Read the full list here: NSF/ANSI 50: Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs.
These standards offer the best suggestions for the many working parts required for proper pool safety and maintenance, including every form of pool and spa and every component. NSF rates pumps, chemicals, suction fittings, water test devices, and all the other pieces that come together to ensure your pool is safe and fun for your guests.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2012 to require public pools to allow safe access and use for persons with disabilities. The law outlines five methods of access that make a pool compliant with the law. Many pool operators opt for an assisted chair lift, as they can be powered by battery or water pressure. The law requires a sloped entry, which can mean a built entryway or a removable ramp. Pools must also have a transfer wall where a grab bar runs on the edge of a pool, allowing guests with wheelchairs to pull themselves in and out of the water. Transfer systems work in a similar manner but more like a ladder or staircase that the guest can use. Accessible pool stairs offer more handholds and contact points to ease into the water. The size of the pool determines how many of these points must be in place, but the good news is that there are tax credits to ease the financial sting of bringing your pool up to compliance.
Assuring your pool meets these important safety regulations can go a long way in avoiding some of the risks we will now examine.
The Issue: Drowning
According to the CDC, an average of 2 children under 14 die from unintentional drowning each day. That’s one in five of all accidental drownings. Young children ages 1 – 4 have the highest rates of drowning in the country. Drowning claims more lives of small children than any other factor aside from birth defects.
Drowning doesn’t just affect children – plenty of adults die from unintentional drowning as well. Again from the CDC, “From 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day.1 An additional 332 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents.”
The largest risk factor in drowning incidents is gender. Men have an 80% higher likelihood of drowning than women, which is sometimes attributed to the fact that in general men take greater risks.
Factors that can contribute to unintentional drownings and are of specific interest to hotel pool owners include lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers around a pool, lack of supervision and alcohol use.
What You Can Do About It
The most important rule of swimming pool safety? Never leave a child unattended around a pool, spa, bathtub or any body of water. Making properties child safe is a challenge, but it’s always worth it in the long run. The majority of injuries and deaths at pools and spas involve children under 2 years old.
The easiest way to combat these safety challenges comes with using proper signage and equipment. For starters, make sure your pool is enclosed by a gate or fence to keep toddlers and small children from wandering into danger. Outdoor pools often use a fence with a latched gate. Many indoor facilities have migrated to a keycard system activated by guestroom keys.
Making it essentially impossible for a child to enter your pool area without an adult can go along way in addressing factors like lack of barriers, lack of supervision and even lack of swimming ability, since a parent knows their child’s capabilities better than anyone else.
It’s common for hotel pool areas to allow alcohol consumption, but don’t be afraid to post reminders about the dangers of swimming under the influence of alcohol. The CDC claims alcohol is a factor in as many as 70% of water-related deaths.
Dangerous Drains: Hidden Pool Dangers
One important but commonly-overlooked danger lurking in pools are pool drains that are outdated. Children and adults can get suctioned and then stuck on a pool drain simply by being too close to the drain. Drains can have a suction force of 500 pounds, which is impossible for most people to lift. Even if people survive being stuck on a pool drain, terrible non-fatal injuries such as disembowelment can occur from the force of the suction.
What You Can Do About It
Make sure your hotel pools and spas are up to code. Since 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act requires new pool safety standards for swimming pools:
- Pool owners must have drain covers installed that meet the current standard on every drain or gate.
- Pools with a single drain must have one or more of the following options installed:
- a safety vacuum release system (SVRS),
- a suction-limiting vent system,
- a gravity drainage system,
- an automatic pump shut-off system
- or a disabled drain.
- Pool operators must also ensure multiple drains are at least three feet apart.
These requirements were put into place to stop drownings caused by powerful drainage systems that pull victims underwater. Make absolutely certain that your pool is equipped with the latest drain safety features!
In the event that someone does get stuck on one of your pool drains, the most effective way to remove them is by wedging your fingers in between the drain and the body. This lessens the effect of the drain’s suction power. Then, roll the person or peel them off the drain sideways. Attempting to pull straight up means trying to fight the full force of the drain – a fight most of us can’t win.
Risk of Electrocution
Between 1990 and 2003 the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that there were 50 deaths and 60 injuries from electric shock in a pool. From 2003 to 2014, a shorter span of time by approximately two years, that number of deaths dropped to 14. The numbers of people who die from electric shock in pools is improving, but hotel owners must do all they can to prevent the risk of electrocution in their pools. Hot tubs, spas and swimming pools can all pose the same electrical hazards.
What You Can Do About It
Faulty underwater wiring is the main cause of stray electrical voltage in or around a pool. Old electrical wiring, if not properly inspected, can also pose a risk. Do your best to keep your pool area free of electrical appliances and extension cords which could end up in the water. Ground-Fault-Interrupters (GFIC’s) are the best safety device to prevent electrocution, so make certain that all lighting, circuits and outlets are equipped with this life-saving technology.
As a hotel owner, there are many things you can do to minimize the risk of electrocution, and hopefully prevent it all together. Some of them fall under the category of hotel pool maintenance, and can be made part of your staff’s regular routine:
- Have your maintenance staff routinely check your pool for any underwater lights that may not be working properly.
- Hire an electrician qualified in pool and spa repairs to inspect and upgrade your pool, spa or hot tub in accordance with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code (NEC).
- Switch out any metal pool ladders and railings to strong, plastic ones – this means one less thing that can conduct electricity in and around your pool.
- Have a fiberglass safety hook on hand to pull out any people who may be paralyzed in the water from an electric current. Swimmers who enter the water to save someone are at equal risk to receive a shock. The fiberglass will prevent the current from passing between the body of the rescuer and the person at risk of drowning.
- Train your staff to know the location of circuit breakers and electrical switches for pool equipment and lights. This is critical, as knowing how to shut off the power can save lives.
- Create and display an emergency plan which includes recommendations from the Red Cross.
Most people know the dangers of diving into water that is too shallow, but despite our knowledge of the dangers, diving injuries are all too common. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that diving is the fourth leading cause of spinal cord injury for men and the fifth for women. It only takes one miscalculated dive to end up paralyzed.
It’s also possible to be injured diving feet first into water that is too shallow, however this generally results in things like broken or sprained ankles rather than spinal cord injuries
What You Can Do About It
It’s unlikely that you’ll have a lifeguard at your pool to patrol your patron’s behavior. The best way to encourage safe pool play is to discourage diving all together. Post signage making it clear that diving is not allowed in your hotel pool, and that anyone caught diving by your staff will be required to leave the
pool area. Encourage everyone to enter the water via points of entry like built-in stairs or ladders, especially the first time they get into the pool.
If you feel you must allow diving in your hotel’s pool, clearly mark water depths around the entire pool so there is never any confusion. Regulations differ by state, but it’s common for today’s pools to require a depth of six or even eight feet for diving to be considered safe.
No Running Near the Pool: Slips And Falls
Most pool deck surfaces are made of concrete, tile or other very hard materials, some of which can get quite slippery when wet. And, the last thing anyone wants is for a child who’s not a good swimmer to get knocked into the pool by a careless guest, or for someone to accidentally fall in when running.
What You Can Do About It
As hotel owner wanting to retain customer loyalty and provide a positive customer experience, there might not feel like a lot you can do about controlling the behavior of your guests. The best thing you can do to try and encourage good guest behavior is to clearly post expectations for guests and a list of pool rules.
As a pool operator, you can also install non-slip surfaces which can cut down dramatically on slips and falls that may occur when people don’t follow the rules!
A Chemical Reaction
Chlorine in pools works wonders for killing bacteria and germs and making the water safe for swimming. Most of the time, chlorine does its job without a hitch. But occasionally, especially in indoor pools without proper regulation of pool chemicals, the chlorine can become too concentrated and start causing problems like skin, throat or lung irritation.
However, the bigger problem can be caused by something called chloramines. When chlorine interacts with the skin of swimmers, it comes in contact with whatever is on the skin: personal care products, dirt, sweat, even urine and feces. When the chlorine interacts with these substances, chloramines can form. This problem can be especially bad in poorly ventilated pool areas, causing a very strong “chlorine” smell around the pool.” Chloramines can cause respiratory irritation, red and stinging eyes and skin irritation for swimmers.
What You Can Do About It
Post signage encouraging guests to shower before entering the pool. This helps minimize the amount of dirt, sweat, personal care products, urine and feces that enter the pool water. Encourage guests to make sure their children are not using the pool as a bathroom. It’s not easy to get rid of excess chloramines once they are present, so make sure your pool’s filtration system is working properly to begin with. You can read more about how to get rid of chloramines here!
Pool Safety Tips
Clearly post pool usage rules, locations of safety equipment, and pool depth. Use non-slip materials on the pool deck, diving board and on any means of entering and exiting the pool. Be sure there’s a first aid kit in the pool area that meets Red Cross standards, as well as a floatation device that can be easily removed and put into the pool when it might be needed. To prevent accidental drownings, make sure the pool is inaccessible to small children who may try and wander in unsupervised.
Hopefully, parents will have taught their kids basic pool safety rules before letting them loose in the water, but staff members should have a quick refresher if they catch any kids unsupervised. Consider putting together a hotel safety training class for your employees, or even offering raises to employees trained in CPR.
The US government has several pool safety documents that can be downloaded and printed out for your guests’ convenience or placed in rooms along with the usual paperwork.
Proactive staff training can also go a long way to keeping a pool safe. Be sure your maintenance staff is aware of the proper chemical levels needed for the pool water. Pools require maintenance just like any other part of the hotel, so setting them on a preventative maintenance schedule can stop many problems before they begin. Training staff members in CPR and other first aid techniques can put guests at ease and might even save lives if a crisis should occur. Most hotels are unable to afford a full-time lifeguard on staff, but many lifeguards need work on the off-season, so finding an employee with that training can make your pool seem even safer to the guests.
When most guests think of hotels, they think of relaxing by the hotel pool. Owning a pool is a responsibility that requires a lot of attention. Be sure your pool complies with laws at every level of legislature. Use NSF standards when purchasing pool equipment. Be sure your pool operates under current safety standards, including allowing means for guests with disabilities to use the pool. Keep unsupervised kids out and put up obvious signage for adults to ensure they’re aware of the terms and conditions for using the pool. Hire staff members who can handle pool emergencies with medical or lifeguard training. Guests want to have fun at the pool—it’s up to you to keep them safe.
Featured image “hotel PORTO BAY FALÉSIA” courtesy of Flickr user PortoBay Hotels & Resorts licensed under CC by 2.0. Top image “Hotel Julien Dubuque pool” courtesy of Flickr user Alan Light licensed under CC by 2.0. Post image via Wikimedia Commons – licensed via Public Domain.