Lessons in the News: The Shallow End Still Presents Dangers

Recently, a young child experienced a non-fatal underwater submersion event at a youth-serving community organization. The child was found face down in the 2-3 ft. depth of a zero-entry pool. Neither this child, nor any of the children in their group, were wearing life jackets. Following extraction, the lifeguard performed CPR and the child regained consciousness. The child was transported to the hospital and was released the next day.

We are extremely grateful and relieved that the child was rescued and has made a full recovery. We’re thankful for the lifeguards and local emergency services staff that provided care in this time of need.

Redwoods exists to create safe communities for all. That means learning from what we are seeing on pool decks around the country—and sharing those learnings with you. This event serves as an important reminder that aquatic safety must be a central priority, especially as many pools are re-opening.

Below are some core principles and concepts that can help prevent drowning.

Drownings Can Still Occur in the Shallow End
It’s standard practice that all non-swimmers are required to stay in the shallow end, but it’s still important to communicate this expectation to staff—so they know it’s a priority. Having a guard or an additional staff member posted at the float rope will help to enforce this protocol. But as we’ve seen before, being in the shallow end is not enough. In fact, 69% of Redwoods non-swimmer drowning incidents happened in the shallow end. Because the shallow end is where your highest risk pool users will be—and because even the shallowest of waters can be deep enough to drown—the shallow end actually requires particular attention and vigilance. Ensuring that multiple layers of protection are in place is central to minimizing the risk of an incident occurring.

Test. Mark. Protect.
Even when your non-swimmers are restricted to the shallow end, no single ‘solution’ is enough to prevent drowning incidents. That’s why we emphasize the need for a robust Test. Mark. Protect. policy that is regularly practiced and consistently implemented. That means swim testing pool users, marking them according to their swimming ability and ensuring that life jackets are in use, and/or there is an adult within arms reach of the child.

We recommend using life jackets over other flotation devices (swim lesson aids, swim belts, float belts, personal instructional devices, etc.) because they are designed to keep non-swimmers upright in the water.

We recently hosted our monthly aquatics Zoom call where we focused much of our time on Test. Mark. Protect. We encourage you to watch the recording to learn more about this policy and hear how other organizations are implementing it.

Consistency is Key
All of the protocols mentioned above mean nothing unless they are followed consistently and comprehensively. It only takes one lapse in concentration, or exception to the rule, for incidents to occur. That’s why it’s important to be intentional and schedule time to discuss and reinforce policies and procedures with staff. Be sure lifeguards feel empowered and have the skills needed to communicate policies to parents/members.

It’s also critical for leadership to schedule regular walkthroughs on the pool deck to identify gaps and to hold staff accountable. You can download our Aquatics Safety Quick Check as an easy guide on what to check when walking through your program, or leave paper cards for your guests and members to randomly check and return to you.

Thank you for all you are doing to keep your pools safe. This work is more important than ever.