Outdoor Water Safety

Carney Insurance Services

The summer heat brings on the height of outdoor water activities. Drowning is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., claiming 4,000 lives annually, according to the American Institute of Preventive Medicine. May is National Water Safety Month and we would like to help owners and operators of outdoor water activities make this a fun and safe summer. The following are key safeguards to have in place, with links to more in-depth resources.

Whether your body of water is an outdoor pool, a stream, a fishing pond, or a large lake, these are some basic controls you should have in place:

1. Develop and post rules
Signs near and regarding the usage of your body of water should say who can use the water, when, and how. Is the water shallow, with no diving headfirst allowed? Review rules each year to make sure they are current and enforced.

2. Share and explain rules
Take the extra step of educating users to your rules and requirements. This can be through a discussion or a written listing you ask them to read.

3. Obtain a signed waiver
Waivers should indicate users understand and assume the risk, that they will abide by the rules, and that they indemnify you as the owner/operator. Remember that minors cannot sign on their own behalf.

4. Control access
Make sure access to your body of water is controlled – through fencing, limited pathways, or other means.

5. Ensure supervision
If lifeguards are provided, make sure they are certified and are appropriately supervised. If lifeguards are not provided, be sure to have some measure of supervision of your body of water, commensurate with the size, usage, and overall risk it poses.

6. Plan for emergencies
Ensure that your emergency response plan is updated and that equipment is readily available and functioning.

Slides, Inflatables, Climbing Walls, and other Aquatic Features

Aquatic centers, camps, and other swimming venues have greatly increased their usage of special structures and features, such as water slides, inflatables, climbing walls, and play structures in the water. We caution all owners and operators of outdoor water activities to carefully review the risks and the appropriate controls necessary before installing these types of water features.

Safeguards to consider before purchase and installation of such structures:

  • Have you reviewed this proposed change to your operations with your insurance agent?
  • Do you have appropriate space, depth, and visual sightlines for the proposed structure?
  • Has the manufacturer followed American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) design standards and do they provide clear instruction on installation?
  • Is your installer qualified to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and are proper contractor safeguards in place (certificates of insurance, being named as an additional insured, thorough vetting process)?
  • Can you be staffed appropriately so that all water features are supervised with appropriate numbers per the manufacturer’s requirements?

Safeguards for ongoing operations of such structures:

  • Maintain required staffing numbers and ensure all supervisory personnel are fully trained per manufacturer’s guidelines and local safety/health codes.
  • Each water feature must have written procedures on how it may and may not be used and the duties of the supervisory staff.
  • Rules for use of the water structure must be posted and enforced.
  • The swimming ability of the users of your water feature must be appropriate for the depth of the water and the increased risk posed by the water feature.
  • The water features must be thoroughly inspected before beginning of the season and daily, per manufacturer guidelines. Document these inspections.
  • Emergency action procedures must include the special risks posed by the water feature. Personnel must be trained and drilled on these procedures.

Additional Resources

We have found that many claims involving bodies of water occur due to staff or users not being trained, or rules not being enforced. To assist with your educational and other safety needs, PHLY has the following resources available to our policyholders:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), which establishes best practices for public swimming pools and spas. The MAHC is intended to reduce the risk of health outbreaks, drownings, and pool-chemical related injuries. The MAHC addresses the design, construction, operation, maintenance, policies and management of public aquatic sites.