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Guidance: Hazards in and around the swimming pool environment

May 13, 2024

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In a previous article, we defined a hazard. In this article, we look at examples of hazards in and around the swimming pool environment. The hazards are divided into three categories: drowning, environmental and activity. The risk factors associated with each of the 14 hazards have also been identified. 


Drowning hazards

The swimming pool, particularly deep water areas, presents a risk of drowning. Remember that drowning is not a hazard. It is what triggers drowning that is the hazard. 


Hazard 1: Swim failure

Swim failure is a cause of drowning when persons cannot prevent submersion in deep water. Swim failure can occur in swimmers and non-swimmers (read examples of drowning incidents)

Risk factors include: 

  • Non-swimmers using the pool surround to access deep water. 
  • Non-swimmers crawl along lane ropes to access deep water. 
  • Non-swimmers using floating or inflatable play equipment to access deep water. 
  • Young children riding on a parent's back into deep water. 
  • Swimmers who become fatigued or injured. 
  • Pool users experiencing a heart attack or spinal injury. 
  • Intoxicated swimmers. 


Hazard 2: Cold water

Cold water presents a risk of cold water shock (aka hypocapnia) and hypothermia, which can cause drowning. Cold water shock is rare in swimming pools and occurs when a person loses respiratory control when suddenly immersed in cold and deep water. Hypothermia is very rare in swimming pools and occurs from prolonged immersion in cold water. Cold water is typically only present in plunge or non-heated outdoor pools.

Risk factors include: 

  • Jumping or diving into cold and deep water. 
  • Prolonged staff training exercises in cold water. 


Hazard 3: Health events

Several health events may result in a loss of consciousness whilst in swimming pool water, which can cause drowning.

Risk factors include: 


Hazard 4: Entrapment

Persons can become entrapped, which can cause drowning and hypoxia. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Entrapped by grilles and drains. 
  • Entrapped by step ladders.
  • Small children are more likely to get entrapped by handrails. 
  • Long hair.
  • Loose-fitting swimwear. 
  • Pool tank outlet. 


Environmental hazards

Swimming pools expose persons to a variety of environmental hazards. 


Hazard 5: Contact with hazardous substances

Employees, contractors, and the public may be exposed to harm through contact with hazardous substances.

Risk factors include: 

  • Access to chemicals.
  • Chemical labelling. 
  • Cleaning. 
  • Disinfectant dosing. 
  • Spillage management. 
  • Contamination incidents. 
  • Disposal of chemicals. 
  • Fatigue. 
  • Stress. 
  • Lead.
  • Dust. 
  • Dermatitis and eczema. 


Hazard 6: Contact with pathogens

Persons may be exposed to harm through contact with pathogens. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Legionnaire's disease (particularly dead legs, stagnant water, and water contamination). 
  • Cryptosporidium (including faecal contamination incidents). 
  • Weil's disease. 
  • Norovirus and coronavirus. 
  • Needlestick injury. 
  • Infectious disease. 


Hazard 7: Air quality

Persons may be exposed to harm through respiratory diseases and disease-causing agents. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Asbestos.
  • Occupational asthma. 
  • Heat and humidity. 


Hazard 8: Noise

Persons may be exposed to harm through exposure to noise.

Risk factors include: 

  • Prolonged exposure to noise. 
  • Acute exposure to noise (including alarms). 
  • Large crowds. 
  • Competitive events. 


Hazard 9: Fire and smoke

Persons may be exposed to harm through fire and smoke (see examples of swimming pool fires). 

Risk factors include: 

  • Sanaus. 
  • Waste disposal. 
  • Food preparation areas. 
  • Emergency egress. 
  • Arson. 


Hazard 10: Contact with electricity

Persons may be exposed to harm through contact with electricity. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Damaged wiring. 
  • Electrical maintenance.
  • Electrical isolation. 
  • Lightning. 


Hazard 11: Radiological

Persons may be exposed to harm by prolonged exposure to natural light. 

Risk factors include:

  • Outdoor pools and water features. 
  • Lifeguards. 
  • UV disinfection systems. 


Activity risk

Swimming pools are fun places where people can enjoy water, but they can result in activity risk. 

Hazard 12: Falls and collisions

Falls and collisions cause bruises, sprains, strains, dislocations and broken bones, which, in turn, can trigger swim failure and drowning.  

Risk factors include: 

  • Diving into shallow water.
  • Bombing. 
  • Verticle dives. 
  • Jumping or diving onto other persons. 
  • Swimming into other persons.  
  • Swimming into the pool wall. 
  • Falling from a diving board and landing on the poolside. 
  • Diving or jumping from a significant height. 
  • Objects thrown or dropped from a significant height. 
  • Running into another person on the pool surround. 
  • Slipping. 
  • Tripping. 
  • Waterslides. 
  • Wave pools. 
  • Zorb balls. 
  • Inflatable and floating play equipment. 


Hazard 13: Interpersonal Contact

Interpersonal conflict and violence may result in harm. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Violence. 
  • Verbal abuse. 
  • Sexual abuse. 
  • Exploitation. 
  • Psychological abuse. 
  • Forced submersion. 
  • Forced entry into deep or cold water. 


Hazard 14: Moving and handling

Moving and handling may result in harm. 

Risk factors include: 

  • Lifting. 
  • Carrying. 
  • Pushing.  
  • Pulling. 
  • Falls from height. 
  • Ladders and step-ladders. 
  • Slipping on standing water on a walkway. 
  • Slipping because of floor contamination. 
  • Tripping over objects left on a walkway. 
  • Hot liquids. 
  • Hot surfaces (mainly pipes).
  • Oral and nasal obstructions (infants especially). 
  • Confined spaces.
  • Allergies. 


Citation: Jacklin, D. 2024. Hazards in and around the swimming pool environment. Water Incident Research Hub, 13 May.