Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable deaths among Canadian children under 10 years of age and the primary cause for those one to five years old.
In pools supervised by lifeguards, water-related fatalities make up less than one per cent of all such incidents.1 To ensure the safety of young swimmers, the City of Mississauga has introduced the wristband identification program at all city pools.
As Canada’s sixth largest city, Mississauga is a vibrant place for recreation enthusiasts with various attractions that promote healthy and active lifestyles. The city’s 18 public pools are a popular choice among residents with more than 200,000 visits annually. Therefore, it is important facility operators take adequate measures to ensure a safe environment for children as they develop their love for swimming.
A multi-layered approach
Statistics show nearly 75 per cent of drowning incidents are due to lack of direct adult supervision. To resolve this issue, the City of Mississauga adopted a multi-layered approach to prevent injuries to young bathers in and around the water—the most critical aspect of this method being supervision. The city’s recreation division ensures children are monitored at all times—“the more eyes on them, the better.”
Prior to wristbands, the city’s admission standard had been in place for many years, which was developed as a result of the Lifesaving Society’s statement:“ research shows unattended youth are at high risk of drowning during non-instructional swim settings.” In July 2018, revisions were made to the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Ontario Public Pools Regulation 565 indicated all public (Class ‘A’) pool owners and operators should have a process in place to ensure the supervision of children under 10. Note: A Class ‘A’ pool is supported by public funding and allows for participation by the general public (typically municipal pools).
The wristband identification program is a giant step toward the safety of young swimmers and has been adopted by many Canadian municipalities due to its multiple benefits for both pool operators and bathers.
How the wristbands work
The core purpose of the program is to help guardians and lifeguards identify at-risk swimmers. The Lifesaving Society defines at-risk swimmers as children aged nine and under, as they are at a higher risk of drowning.
The role of the lifeguard in this context is to continually scan the water to monitor at-risk swimmer safety, observing their activities and checking to see if the guardian is directly supervising their child as required by the admission standard. The city defines direct supervision as the continuous observation of a child’s activity, a guardian’s proximity to the child, and their ability to render immediate physical support to the child if needed.
Red wristbands are for children five years old or younger and indicate the swimmer must be within arm’s reach of a guardian who is over the age of 14. The guardian can supervise a maximum of two children. Young swimmers can participate in the deep end with their caregiver, provided they are wearing a life-jacket.
Yellow wristbands are for children aged six to nine and are used to identify non-swimmers who are unable to successfully complete the swim test. These swimmers must be directly supervised by a guardian who is over the age of 14, is in the water, and able to provide immediate assistance. A guardian can monitor a maximum of four children. If the swimmers are wearing life-jackets, this number can be increased to eight. Note: To participate in the deep end, all swimmers must wear a life-jacket.
A green wristband indicates the child has successfully completed the facility test and can swim in the deep end without a life-jacket. In this case, when swimmers are between six and nine years old, the guardian is not required to go into the water with the child. However, if the child is five years old or younger and has completed the facility swim test, the guardian is required to remain within arm’s reach of the child who can swim in the deep end without a life-jacket.
The facility test consists of swimming two widths of the pool without stopping and with competency. The supervision requirement for the guardian changes if the child completes the swim test. In this case, the guardian can stay on the deck as the child has shown the desired swimming competency. If the child chooses not to take the swim test, or is unsuccessful in completing it, the guardian needs to provide direct supervision in the water specific to the child’s age.
It is important to note the supervision requirement for young bathers less than six years of age is more significant than for those aged six to nine. Supervision expectations are also signalled by different wristbands. While two of the colours (red and yellow) identify children’s ages and the corresponding requirements for each age group, the third wristband (green) helps identify all pool users (under the age of 14) who have passed the test and can swim in the deep end without a life-jacket.
This program helps aquatic facility operators educate parents and guardians about their role in overseeing children in and around the swimming pool. Also, lifeguards must ensure they are vigilant around young swimmers to prevent any water-related accidents.
While the wristband program only applies to children under the age of 10, lifeguards should regularly check the swimming abilities of all pool users. If an older youth or adult is demonstrating weak skills, lifeguards should discuss their options directly with the individual (e.g. wear a life-jacket, move to the shallow end, or complete the swim test).
In addition to ensuring adequate supervision of children, caregivers and facility operators can add additional layers to reduce drowning incidents, such as the provision and use of life-jackets as well as encouraging parents to register their children for swimming lessons.
Young children can drown in as little as 25.4 mm (1 in.) of water. Therefore, pool operators must educate and encourage parents and guardians to monitor children outside of the aquatic facility, too, whether it is bathtubs, backyard pools, beaches, rivers, creeks, or other water bodies.
Darek Osostowicz has been employed with the City of Mississauga for the last six years as the manager of aquatics. In his role, Osostowicz oversees the operation of 11 indoor and seven outdoor pools. Prior to this, he worked with the City of Vaughan for 16 years, supervising several high-volume facilities as an aquatic co-ordinator. Osostowicz’s primary professional interests include emergency procedures, staff training, and risk management projects, such as lifeguard positioning and scanning zones as well as admission standards and occupational health and safety. He has also presented on these topics at several provincial aquatics workshops and conferences including the Lifesaving Society Safe Water Symposium, PRO Aquatics, and the York Region Aquatic Council (YRAC) annual spring conference. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Geiger works as an aquatic supervisor with the City of Mississauga. He is an active Lifesaving Society trainer and has been a certified lifeguard since 2003. Geiger was the project lead for the implementation of the wristband standard in the City of Mississauga. He can be reached via email