The primary concern of any aquatic facility must be safety above all else. This is a mindset that must come from the top management and be communicated and reinforced through all subordinate staff. The focus on safety is visible to participants when they observe the upkeep of the swimming facility and even the signage posted throughout. It is also apparent in the staff, as they must not only protect the safety of the participants, but also serve as role models through their own behaviors.
The pool must be programmed for financial sustainability and a modernized plan for multi-leveled programming and professional budget development is imperative. Aquatics programming brings value to the community by providing opportunities that are responsive to the community’s needs.
A swim lesson program provides an important service to the community by reducing the risk of drowning. Swim lesson programming may provide a wide range of options, including parent and child classes, preschool classes, school-age classes, teen classes, adult classes, gender-specific classes, adapted swim lessons for those with disabilities, and classes that reach various diverse populations.
To form the program philosophy, an understanding of drowning is necessary:.
- Approximately 10 people drown every day in the United States. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).)
- More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children younger than 14. Children ages one to four have the highest drowning rates.(Source: CDC.)
- Drowning is also a silent killer and can happen in a matter of seconds. Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time. (Source: Present P. Child Drowning Study.)
- 70% of African-American and 60% of Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim, compared to 40% of Caucasians who cannot swim. (Source: National Research Study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis.)
- African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers. (Source: CDC.)
- If a parent does not know how to swim, there is only a 13% chance that a child in that household will learn how to swim. (Source: National Research Study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis.)
- Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children aged one to four years. (Source: Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2009.)
- Additional accidental drowning statistics can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website:
Promoting health and wellness through many formats is an asset to the community and allows many adults to use the pool(s). Programming may include water exercise classes, lap swimming, personal training, triathlon swim training, arthritis classes, as well as coordinating with local medical facilities for therapeutic uses.
Recreational pool usage provides a place for the community to come together through open swim times and special events. Adding special attractions such as climbing walls, slides, and floating structures to an existing facility may increase the interest level in the community as well. The use of focus groups and community surveys could be helpful in determining the value of such investments. When designing a new structure, it is also important to seek community input to determine what programming will be offered and what play structures may be built.
There may be local competitive swim teams that may want to rent the facility or an organization may run its own competitive in-house swim program. Either format allows for the development of strong swimmers that can go on to compete in school sports and potentially work as swim instructors and lifeguards.
There are various community groups that may be interested in renting pool time, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, competitive swim teams, SCUBA organizations, homeschool groups, and church groups.
Community Education can contribute to the school by providing safety training for physical education teachers and swim coaches. There may also be opportunities to teach students in physical education classes.
Community Education provides a wholesome setting for youth in the community to be employed as swim instructors and lifeguards while learning life skills that will benefit them in future careers.
Some Community Education departments will employ management staff to manage programming while other Community Education departments will contract with an outside agency to manage the facility and programming. The decision will often be made after analyzing the financial profit.
Internal management of the programming has its benefits. It provides a more cohesive structure to bring public awareness while all of the department programs fit under the same brand. It provides quality control that might not be present with an outside agency.
Contracting with an outside agency can help when a Community Education department does not have the resources, both in personnel and finances. Aquatics program staff need to obtain and maintain valid certifications, whether as swim instructors or lifeguards. The ability to train and certify staff is also a consideration in the management approach.
Documentation in the form of an employee policy and procedure manual provides a guide for appropriate staffing. Some items to consider in developing a policy and procedure manual include an orientation to the organization, general employee policies and procedures, job descriptions, specific duties for each position, disciplinary policies, and samples of forms that will be used such as timesheets and accident reports.
General employee policies and procedures that might be part of an employee manual include:
- Initial hiring paperwork, including documentation of eligibility for employment, tax withholding forms, background check forms, payroll forms, etc.
- OSHA requirements for an offer of HepB vaccinations and bloodborne pathogen training, both initially and annually.
- On-the-job behavior expectations.
- Dress code and grooming requirements.
- Harassment policies and procedures.
- Scheduling policies and procedures.
- Timelines for scheduling (monthly, seasonally, etc.).
- Absence from work/substitution policies and procedures.
- Performance standards.
- In-service training requirements.
- Discipline procedures.
An orientation to people in your organization will help new employees comprehend how decisions are processed in the organization. This information should include:
- Vision and mission statements.
- “Chain of Command” for organization.
- Payroll information.
- Reviews and raises.
- Who to contact when questions arise.
Job descriptions provide clarity in screening applicants to determine if they have the qualifications for the job and providing guidelines for the employee. Items to include in the job description are:
- Job summary.
- Qualifications, including certifications, age, experience, etc.
- Primary responsibilities.
- Secondary responsibilities.
- Typical physical demands and working conditions, including physical strength and swimming ability. The physical demands should also include the
- description of abilities that might exclude applicants with some degree of physical, hearing, or vision disabilities, etc.
- Effect on end result may be included as a statement of expectations that the employee will work to further the goals of the organization. This might include meeting the needs of customers and in doing so, retaining the customers and ideally obtaining new ones.
Some specific items for a lifeguard job description include:
- Primary responsibilities.
- Secondary responsibilities (cleanliness of facility, etc.).
- Uniform and equipment required when on duty.
- Sun exposure policies for outdoor facilities.
- Opening and closing procedures.
- Guard stations, rotation system, and breaks.
Some specific items for a swim instructor job description include:
- Responsibilities, including teaching, evaluation of progress, and correct placement by ability of the participant.
- Cancellation and make-up policies.
- Use of equipment.
- Preparation responsibilities (block plan, lesson plans, etc.).
- Record-keeping of attendance and progress reporting.
Sample forms used at your facility might include accident reports, timesheets, and attendance reports. The employee manual can provide copies of these forms as well as the following:
- When to fill out the form.
- How to fill out the form.
- What to do with the form once it is completed.
An awareness of the risks involved in operating a swimming facility can help serve as a guide for the development of safety guidelines and staff in-service training.
Daily safety inspections of the facility, including equipment and water quality, should be conducted and documented. Accident and incident record-keeping can also provide indications of hazards that may need to be addressed.
Hazards may exist for staff so it is important to minimize dangers for employees and follow the proper guidelines for reporting work-related injuries that might require workman’s compensation.
Federal regulations for employee safety are determined by OSHA.
- The organization must have a bloodborne pathogen standard document, including the risks for exposure, prevention strategies, and an exposure plan in the event that an employee is exposed to a bloodborne pathogen.
- Lifeguards are considered as a high risk for exposure to blood and body fluids. Documents must be maintained to verify that each lifeguard has been offered Hepatitis B immunization and the follow through with providing that immunization if it is requested. Records must also be kept of attendance at an annual bloodborne pathogen training, including the content of the training.
- Location of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) in the event of an exposure to a harmful chemical.
It is important to be aware of and to comply with federal, state, and local government codes.
- Pool codes are established by federal, state, and local government entities and include standards for construction of the facility as well as safe operation. Pool codes for daily operations include water quality, equipment requirements (in good working order), and certification requirements for staff at the facility.
- The Minnesota Department of Health also makes recommendations for safe practices, including biohazard contamination guidelines.
A facility may have a generalized emergency action plan or have multiple plans for various situations such as pool rescues, CPR or first-aid care, biohazard pool contamination, lost child, severe weather, power outage, fire, terrorism, etc.
All staff should be oriented to the rules specific to a facility and provided with the rationale for the rules. Providing staff with rationale for the rules helps them communicate more effectively with customers while enforcing the rules.
Certification training for lifeguards and swim instructors can be accomplished through several organizations such as the American Red Cross, YMCA, Starfish Aquatics, and USA Swimming. Certification records should be kept current and on file.
In-services training provides staff with the opportunity to improve their skills, discuss specific incidents and their handling or possible future handling, and to connect with other staff in a shared mission. It is important to inform staff of attendance requirements and absence policies for in-service trainings. Attendance records should be maintained as well as an overview of content covered in the training.
The use of pool toys and flotation may be restricted based on safety. For instance, many facilities only permit the use of U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejackets for flotation. Whatever equipment is allowed must be used safely. Equipment must be properly stored to prevent mold and must be maintained to maximize its use.