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Reducing risk and liability at aquatic facilities

Announcing hazards

Signs, ropes, and barriers can provide assistance to alert patrons of a closed pool area.

Signage around the pool can play an important role to inform users of hazards. Failure to warn of known hazards may be a breach of the pool operator’s duty of care. Signs and warnings are crucial and are almost always a factor in litigation following an aquatic injury. Empirical studies have shown written warnings, in general, are not effective in gaining either consumer attention or behavioural compliance. However, there is consensus among the professionals in the field of communication and warnings that these warning signs must deliver the information available about the risks and hazards to the users.

In most instances, signs do not replace the need for adequate supervision. Instead, they usually communicate most of the rules and instructions at a facility. The type and number of signs, their location, and the message to be communicated should be chosen with great care. Notices provide facility guests and employees with important messages regarding the proper use of the pool or spa, any hazards that may be present, and ways to avoid personal injury. A well-written sign will warn people about any threat to their well-being that physical conditions or chemicals may present.

Signs should warn users of physical hazards such as shallow water, diving and no-diving areas, and slippery areas. They should also warn of chemical hazards related to the storage of chlorine, acids, and cleaning materials. In addition to water depth and chemical signs, there may be times when warnings are given for environmental conditions involving lighting, glare from surfaces, algae, or cloudy water.

Finally, signs should also provide warning for behavioural hazards such as horseplay, running, shoving, jumping, hours of use, and shallow-water diving. Signs should always be conspicuously placed. Types of signs include:

  • A sign stating “No Diving” or “Diving Prohibited.”
  • The maximum number of bathers who may use the pool at one time.
  • The hours the pool is open.
  • Pollution of pool prohibited (e.g. urinating, discharge of fecal matter, expectorating, or blowing the nose in any pool is prohibited.)
  • Swim diapers must be worn by bathers who are incontinent, lack toilet training, or are otherwise lacking voluntary control of excretory functions.
  • For pools with deck slides:
  • Sliding shall not occur in water less than 1 m (4ft) deep.
  • Sliding shall be performed only in a feet-forward position.
  • For pools with starting blocks:
  • Use of starting blocks is prohibited except during competitive swimming or swimmer-training activities.
  • For facilities with spas:
  • Spa warning sign—conspicuously posted in the immediate vicinity of the spa; a minimum of 0.3 m2 (3 sf).
  • Separate rule signs posted by diving boards.
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