At the end of August 2017, a small boy was part of a swimming session with his family who were attending an activity camp at a holiday park activity centre in North Devon.
Towards the end of the session, the boy’s father noticed that the child was not with the group and presumed he had already left the pool. A tarpaulin being used as a pool cover was pulled over the pool and the building was locked up.
A subsequent search failed to find the child and it was not for a further two and a half hours that his body was discovered on the floor of the pool basin. He was recovered onto the pool side and taken by ambulance to hospital where he was pronounced life extinct later that afternoon.
The local council prosecuted the pool operators for a breach of section 3 of the Health and Safety At Work Act. Alleging that there was no risk assessment, no lifeguard, poor water quality, poor signage and nobody in a position of responsibility to deal with any problems. It was said that these failures were “a significant cause of the death of small boy by drowning”.
The activity centre pleaded guilty to a health and safety breach resulting in a fine of £60,000 with an additional £30,000 costs.
The circumstances surrounding the accident
The child was a non-swimmer and it was alleged, had been given a buoyancy jacket that was too big and had no crotch straps. It was not a swimming aid complying with BSE13138-1. The pool water quality was very poor with excessive turbidity that it was not possible to see the pool basin floor.
Poor water quality was a constant issue and was described by the judge who said that “visibility in the pool was “wholly inadequate” and seemed to have been a “chronic problem”. The expert called in to assist with the prosecution found that the pool water log included a column on visibility through the water and that there were numerous occasions where it was recorded as being inadequate. There was no system in place for closing the pool if the water became turbid.
The pool was small at only 72m2 but very deep at one end at 2.3m and was fitted with a only one small filter with no automatic dosing system. The pool plant room was very untidy with test chemicals and empty wrappers having been discarded and the plant had been previously described by the centre’s pool engineers as being more suited to domestic use rather than for a pool where canoe training, recreational swimming and swimming lessons were provided. The turnover time for the pool was in excess of 5 hours.
The group hiring the pool had presumed that the member of staff on duty was there as a lifeguard. His instructions however were to open up, check nobody caused damage and lock the poo at the end of the session. The centre had no formal contract for the hire of the pool, no documentation regarding supervision and safety arrangements and no risk assessment that included recreational swimming.
Although not an overly busy swimming session, there was no indication of the point at which the small child became submerged. Due to the wholly inadequate water quality, once submerged, the body could not be seen.
Lessons to be learned
During the course of the investigation conducted by the local authority and initially, by the police, it was evident that the pool staff were not formally trained in pool water management and the pool plant, outlets and water treatment were wholly inadequate.
No account had been taken of contemporary guidance on pool operations and safety with no regard having been paid to publications from:
- PWTAG Swimming Pool Water
- HSE Managing health and Safety in Swimming Pools
- CIMSPA Parental and operator guidance for child supervision in swimming pools
Risk assessment did not address pool operations insofar as swimming was concerned, the operating procedures were inadequate and the arrangements for pool use and bather supervision had not been properly determined and agreed between all of the parties. The group’s liaison officer was under the impression that the pool operators provided lifeguard supervision for their swimming activities and publicised this on the information materials sent to the participants.
We consider it essential, especially with the smaller, privately managed pools, that they ensure the following is in place whether the pool is hired out or for internal/member use only:
- Training for staff to the standards set out by PWTAG
- A responsible person on duty or easily on call who is fully plant trained and can address any operational problems that arise
- A pool plant system that is appropriate not just for the type of pool but also for the expected daily bather loading
- Clear arrangements for supervision and if this is not constant supervision, an understanding by all users of how to summon assistance in any emergency
- Where no supervision is provided, a recognition that lone bathing is not permitted
- Education for parents when young children are using the pool that supervision of children is a partnership between the parents and the operator
- Where buoyancy aids are required, they should meet the requirements of BSEN13138-1 and be labelled as such and feature a CE mark.
QLM are a market leading leisure health and safety and management consultancy that provide strategic and operational support and advice to the sport, leisure, culture, hospitality and holiday park sectors.
To find out more about QLM and how we can support you or if are concerned about any aspect of this article in relation to your facility, school, hotel or holiday park, please do not hesitate to contact us by completing the form below.