March 1, 2017
By Johnathan Roberts
As swimming continues to grow as a preferred method of exercise and physical therapy for the young and elderly alike, commercial aquatic facilities continue to experience an increase in patronage year after year. This can be witnessed by the escalating number of people who use pools for water aerobics, muscle strengthening, and water walking/yoga; not to mention traditional swim lessons, and competitive swimming and diving.
Aquatic facility operators and managers need to keep abreast of the many safety products available to keep the pool, deck area, and locker rooms as safe as possible for patrons of all ages and physical abilities. It is important to equip today’s pools with products that help prevent accidents and injury such as padding for dive stands, slides, and water features, slip-resistant flooring for pool decks and locker rooms, properly maintained perimeter grating, and even padding for custom rails and ladders. Renovating aquatic facilities to make them safer benefits staff and patrons. Further, adding these safety products can also provide a facelift for older commercial pools.
By far, one of the greatest safety concerns at commercial pools is diving boards and slides. These products make pools more attractive and enjoyable to users; however they do pose one of the greatest threats of injury—aside from drowning. Fortunately, there are now multiple options for safety padding designed specifically to help prevent accidents, not only from slides and diving boards, but also from other attractions such as climbing walls, rope bridges, and lily walks, as well as other pool activity features.
These safety pad systems are specifically designed for pools equipped with 3-m dive stands. They were developed to protect patrons from dive stand or water playground falls from heights up to 3.9 m (13 ft).
Dr. Tom Griffiths, a noted aquatic industry safety expert with Aquatic Safety Research Group in State College, Pa., has officially endorsed these safety pad systems after he reviewed the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)/ASTM International drop test and confirmed conclusively the safety pads eliminate “97 per cent of critical injuries and 100 per cent of fatal falls from head impact from heights of up to 3 m (9.8 ft).”
Dive stand pads are custom manufactured from durable, colourfast, watertight, slip-resistant pool compatible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and foam materials. The pads are low-maintenance and provide an effective method of making dive areas safer for pool patrons.
These pad systems are available for on-deck, flush-mounted, or underwater applications—along with numerous variations to suit the customers’ needs. These models can be used on existing or newly constructed dive stands. In addition to being an attractive upgrade to any aquatic facility, those commercial pools which employ these safety pads may see a decrease in insurance costs.
For slides with an open run-out, the safety concern is the exit. For example, users of these slides in water playground applications are exiting into shallow water areas and, depending on their momentum, may come in contact with the concrete pool floor. Therefore, it is important to add safety padding at the exit of these slides so users land on a soft, padded surface to help avoid injury.
As previously mentioned, safety padding systems should include an ASTM International certified slip-resistant texture. These pads are commonly sold in 1.2 x 1.8 m (4 x 6 ft) and 1.2 x 2.4 m (4 x 8 ft) sizes and should adequately cover the slide’s landing area in shallow water. It is important to take the time to observe patrons using the pool to determine the areas of potential injury before purchasing safety padding.
In addition to shallow areas at the slide exit, padding behind the slide ladders should also be considered. Falling from a ladder can be extremely dangerous. Following an example set by the playground industry, aquatic facility managers should ensure slides have safety padding in the water and on the pool deck.
Further, many aquatic facility managers are now even requesting custom bumpers to protect the heads of patrons as they enter a closed-flume slide. Patrons who are not paying attention to the slide’s entry height, or are attempting to lift their heads within the closed flume, can become injured. Therefore, sufficient padding at the slide entrance is an excellent preventative measure.
Aquatic play features come in a wide array of configurations. Many are made of metal columns that rise vertically from the deck or pool floor. These columns are typically used throughout waterparks, splash areas, activity pools, and even some standard pool facilities. These play features have increased patronage immensely as pools become more attractive and offer water play areas for all ages.
However, the increased attendance and a propensity for children to run in and out of the different water features makes having extra protection on these columns important, as they help to avoid head injuries. Whether these columns are holding netting and ropes for popular ‘lily pad walks’ or are simply wrapped around vertical poles in a splash play area, the added cushion on these hard columns keeps patrons safer.
These 90-degree pads are installed onto the deck over the edge of the pool wall and into the water. Just as the name suggests, they are placed on hard pool edges to provide extra protection where patrons may frequently bump against during aquatic play. For example, edge pads can often be found near ‘lily pad walks’ to protect those who may fall off near the edge of the pool.
These pads also come in handy in shallow pool areas where children play tag, toss beach balls, or in areas where smaller children play and are more likely to fall onto the pool wall edge.
Even access ramps, ladders, and rails can potentially become areas of impact to bathers. That said, some facilities pad entire shallow end walls as an affordable way to increase safety in and around the pool.
Wave pools, lazy-rivers, and waterparks in general are great beneficiaries of safety padding. With turbulent water currents that can push patrons into walls or other water features, the added padding is ideal for any area where there is a risk of swimming impact. This is often the case where water currents will pull or push small children toward a particular wall or corner.
Most facilities are aware of these areas and should take the necessary precautions by installing additional safety padding.
Many may not think the grating in gutters around the pool perimeter to be the most obvious safety hazard; however, accidents caused by broken, bent, or sagging grates can cause significant injury to bathers’ hands and feet, as well as create a trip hazard. Many health codes specify the maximum space between the gratings cannot exceed 9.5 mm (0.375 in.). Those pools that have violated this code have been shutdown by health inspectors until the facility can rectify the problem.
Aquatic facilities need to have a daily inspection process in place (especially in-season) to examine all pool grating. Not only can grating crack, but the supports holding them in place can also break, causing it to sag and become a trip hazard, or an area where a bather’s toe or finger can become trapped. Replacing the damaged grating immediately is the best way to ensure the pool area, and patrons remain safe.
There are several options available for pool grating replacement. In fact, some facilities install new grating in high-traffic areas every season to ensure safety. When doing so, it is a good idea to look for grating that is compatible with the existing conditions. Grating fabricated of PVC can provide a quick, cost-effective solution. It should also come with a certified slip-resistant texture.
The PVC composition is stronger and holds up better to outdoor elements. Most pool codes specify that for every 91 kg (200 lbs) of uniform weight, the grating’s maximum deflection should be less than 6.4 mm (0.25 in.).
Those aquatic facilities looking for a long-term solution also have the option of using granite grating. This product, as the name suggests, is made of granite and will last for more than 30 years. It comprises a single-piece product in which the slots are fixed so there is no risk of breaking the grates during normal pool usage.
Pool decks are often overlooked as a dangerous part of an aquatic facility. Older, cracked, or peeling decks cause injury from slippery surfaces, cut feet from cracks, or even burns from sun exposure. To rectify any one of these problems, pool decks can be entirely covered with PVC flooring. This flooring encapsulates and makes any deck area waterproof and slip-resistant.
Constructed of a thick, reinforced-PVC membrane, this flooring can be used in any recreational area where slip-resistance, watertight integrity, and long-term ease of maintenance are required. The PVC also comprises an anti-fungal formulation that is easy to clean, making it ideal for pool decks, spray grounds, or locker rooms.
Further, this flooring can also be installed over foam for added comfort in active aging applications or wherever extra fall protection is required.
Aquatic facilities that have well-constructed decks might still benefit from added safety mats that can be placed at entrances and exits of any pool type, where most slipping occurs. These textured, self-draining safety mats are designed to minimize slippage and, depending on a facility’s requirements, can be provided in various sizes. Similarly, there are textured ‘shower circles’ that can be placed in shower areas to also help prevent slip-and-fall accidents.
Safety grip rail covers help promote safety and reduce liability by providing a better gripping surface than a bare-hand railing. These covers are made from a commercial-grade poly fabric blend with ultraviolet (UV) light inhibitors. They are simply installed over the railing and zipped into place.
Handrails can often times become loose and unstable; therefore, routine inspections around the pool should include handrail checks. In some cases, stabilizer plugs can be used to help facilities ensure the handrails remain safe.
Handrails that are experiencing corrosion should be examined and replaced. Corrosion of stainless steel rails is becoming much more common now that salt chlorine generators have become popular in commercial applications. Depending on the degree of corrosion, handrails can be replaced with powder-
coated or thermoplastic covered rails which not only resist corrosion, but also are easier to grip and cooler to the touch than traditional stainless steel.
Ensuring aquatic facilities remain safe takes time and effort. Having a daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance routine and checklist is a good way to keep abreast of any potential safety hazards. The products mentioned in this article are only a few examples of what is available to help make various areas of a facility safer for patrons. It should also be noted, the areas mentioned for consideration are outside of the mandated items such as safety drains, anti-entrapment, first-aid kits, lifeguard stands, and safety signage requirements. Aquatic facilities that are well informed of the many options available to make the pool and surrounding areas safer will have happy patrons and smooth, uninterrupted operations.
Johnathan Roberts is a division manager with PoolEquip LLC in Indianapolis, Ind., and oversees the sales and production of the company’s grating and safety padding products. His product knowledge, in addition to a varied background in the construction industry, allows him to offer industry professionals safe, high quality, and esthetically pleasing solutions for new construction and renovation projects. Roberts can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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