Consumer Reports: Pool risk in plain sight
Jumping, splashing and swimming -- a day at the pool can be fun and safe when lifeguards are on duty.
Maria Bella, an aquatics and drowning expert, works with swimming pool managers to best position lifeguards and identify potential safety risks. Using underwater targets and three synchronized cameras mounted to represent lifeguard stands at different heights, they compare the lifeguard's view from each location. She presents that information to pool officials and then helps them to determine what height lifeguard chairs are needed and where those chairs need to be placed so they put their lifeguards in a position where they can best identify a struggling patron, whether they're at the surface, just below it or at the bottom of the pool.
In a photo example from the pool's lifeguard position of 2 1/2 feet, it is difficult to see two children swimming just under the surface of the water. But at a 6- or 8-foot chair position, the children are clearly visible. Consumer Reports chief science officer says this phenomenon is due to glare off the water and the refraction of light -- when light bends as it travels from the water into the air. From a low position at the edge of a pool, light refraction from the water and glare from the sun or overhead lighting can significantly limit the lifeguard's ability to see all areas within the water.
The American Lifeguard Association suggests that, "the lifeguard chair should be 6 to 8 feet in height to give a better overall view of the area the guard is covering. Lifeguard stands should be placed in such a way that they allow for full coverage of the swimming area."
Trained, professional lifeguards play a vital role in water safety. But even when there are lifeguards on duty, a responsible adult should always monitor children. Also consider asking the pool management if they've ever done an assessment of the location of the lifeguard stands around the pool.
The CPSC's "Pool Safely" campaign works to reduce child drownings. You can read up on pool safety and download their safety tips by clicking here.
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