Pools, water parks and natural bodies of water deliver a host of economic benefits but also require cities and towns to take steps to keep visitors and residents safe.
With drowning the second leading cause of death for children 14 and younger, municipal pool operators must pay close attention to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations 61-51 related to swimming pools.
In addition to regulating the pool's design and construction, DHEC also provides guidance on the number of lifeguards needed based on pool size, the required safety equipment and the use of emergency notification devices.
Ignoring these regulations and others can be costly. The pool may be shut down until violations are corrected, and DHEC can impose fines and penalties. More important than avoiding a hit to the budget, following the regulations greatly reduces the likelihood of a drowning or other water-related crisis.
"In our property and liability program, these claims are fairly limited, usually less than 10 per year," said Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services. "The most common are slip and fall claims. But we also receive a lot of claims for cuts, scrapes and toe injuries." She said fatal drownings rarely occur at municipal pools.
"Recreational users are owed a duty of care," said Ricard, referring to the requirement that the municipality has taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety.
"That includes premises that are maintained in a reasonable, safe condition; inspection and discovery of conditions involving unreasonable risk of harm; and protection against dangers by making defects safe or giving adequate warning of defects."
She said cities and towns must also ensure that facilities are designed, built, inspected and maintained appropriately. Municipal officials should also address unreasonable hazards and post warnings about them, anticipate foreseeable activities and take reasonable steps to protect users, Ricard said.
Water parks and splash pads are growing in popularity in cities and towns. While these aquatic features offer the public another water recreation outlet, they create their own liability concerns. For instance, the presence of stairs and platforms increases the opportunities for trips, slips and falls.
Wave pools, in particular, bring additional elements into play. Glare, the rise and fall of the water, and the number of people present can create additional risks. Officials may need to consider adequate handrails, more signage and additional lifeguards to keep these increasingly popular aquatic features safe for residents and visitors.
When the weather turns hot enough, however, residents and visitors may end up splashing and playing in any city water feature, regardless of whether it's intended for public recreation.
A fountain that is not used for recreation can use recycled water that is disinfected by chlorine, but officials must post "no swimming" signs, said DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity. If a city wants to install a recreational splash pad that uses recycled water and disinfectant prior to recirculating the water, it would fall under state public swimming pool regulations 61-51. But if it uses water that goes from the tap into the fountain and then drains away to sewage connections after being sprayed out, it would not be regulated by DHEC, said Yanity.
Bodies of water
Because many natural bodies of water do not have lifeguards, signage is especially important. Cities or towns that are fortunate to have rivers and lakes should post "swim at your own risk" warnings in areas without lifeguards. In some cases, the municipality may need to restrict, or prohibit altogether, activities such as swimming and fishing. Officials should also consider having adequate railings and keeping lifesaving equipment nearby for visitors to use.
Storing the proper equipment on hand and staffing pools and water features correctly go a long way in preventing accidents and allowing residents and visitors to enjoy some relief from the South Carolina summer.