By Leon Altman
There is nothing more refreshing than going for a swim on a hot summer day. Whether at an aquatic centre, marina or water/theme park, aquatic amenities are always popular. As numerous people partake in many water-related activities at these various facilities, not only is there a need to ensure everyone participates safely, but also for management to provide/maintain safe environments.
Slip-and-fall accidents on surfaces near water, including pool decks, marinas, water parks, locker rooms, showers, toilets, saunas and spas, are a major cause of serious injury in North America. They are especially hazardous to unaware users due to the risks posed by constantly wet and slippery floors, which have not been treated as to make them safe for use. Decks can become slippery not only from water, but also from body oils, lotions, mildew or algae. Uneven surfaces with cracks or lifting cement slabs, gaps in lumber, loose mats, unstable ramps can also increase these hazards.
Ensuring aquatic facility safety
In Canada, property owners and facility operators are required by law to ensure their facilities are safe for both employees and occupants. These laws include federal bill C-45, which relates to workplace health and safety.
Under this law, anyone who has a role in setting policy or managing an important part of an organization’s activities is under legal duty and could be found guilty of criminal negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm or shows reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others. Swimming pool facility operators who ignore the requirements for comprehensive anti-slip prevention measures are not always aware of the impact these laws have (i.e. monetary fines and criminal punishment).
In the U.S., there are provisions under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which set standards regarding minimum slip resistance requirements for various walking surfaces using a coefficient of friction (COF) scalar value. Based on these standards, which are similar to those used in Canada, surfaces surrounding swimming pools and other aquatic areas should have a COF reading of 0.6 or higher.
Additional areas of concern
Swimming pool decks are not the only area for slip-and-fall concerns. Ramps, diving boards, showers, saunas and locker room floors, where surfaces comprise hard materials such as tile, vinyl, laminate and paint should also be considered.
Among the types of surfaces of concern are those made of wood as they can rot, splinter or crack and become trip hazards. If the areas adjoining the water are not well-planned, and defects are not remedied promptly, operators may have a weak defense against any legal action for damages from injury.
Further, injuries associated with slips and falls from diving platforms is another area of concern. According to a study performed by Public Health Agency Canada, over a 16-year period (1990-2005), approximately 1.5 million injuries were recorded due to slips and falls involving diving boards, towers and platforms.6 These accidents were documented at both indoor/outdoor public facilities where the direct cause was not from the performance of a dive, but rather the condition of the diving surface (i.e. concrete/ceramic decks or diving structure [board, platform, stairs, ladder] and loose mats).
Finally, it should also be remembered, those facilities with food preparation areas (i.e. dining and kitchen rooms) are also subject to slip-and-fall injuries due to the accumulation of water, grease, oils, etc. In these cases, floor cleaning and degreasing chemicals, which are approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), should be used to clean these surfaces.
It is important not to compromise on the quality of degreasing chemicals being used; higher-quality products may seem expensive, but are manufactured to stringent performance standards to effectively remove any dirt and grime. Also, due to hard water issues in Canada, it is recommended that the cleaning products used on hard deck surfaces have the ability to remove not only dirt and oil deposits, but also hard water residue.