As if to help christen my new category of Health & Safety (lunacy), those nice people at the Dolphin Leisure Centre in Dunoon have been trawling the small print of the legislation, and come up with a new set of rules for their members to comply with. In fact, if they don’t sign a document confirming they will comply, then they’re not even getting in!
The following quote comes from the Dunoon Observer Online, of February 9, 2007. I’ve had to quot rather than summarise, as you have to read the detail of the Centre’s statements yourself, just to get the full flavour of the logic:
All users must now sign a disclaimer to acknowledge that they have read the new rules prior to being allowed access to the facilities. By signing, you are accepting the terms and conditions. Failure to sign will result in entry refusal.
One disgruntled leisure centre member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “Myself, and plenty of others who swim at the Dolphin are very annoyed at some of the new rules and regulations.
“Basically, they are not employing a lifeguard at quiet times and we have to sign a piece of paper at the entrance before going in saying we agree to all the rules. One of the rules is that there must be a minimum of two people in the pool and the spa at all times.
“As there is not always going to be a lifeguard on duty, they have installed panic buttons. But what if it is only a mother and baby in the pool, and the mother takes ill. What would happen then?
“We have been wondering if they just want the locals who have paid their annual subscription to get fed up and to stop going over the winter months, so that they can close it down and save money on staff.”
David Dain, the General Manager, strongly refutes any allegations that they plan to close down in winter.
“Quite the opposite,” he said. “We have made these changes to try to ensure that we don’t shut down at all over the year. Business in this industry is slow between November and Easter but we have not laid off one member of staff. Some have been given other duties and others have been relocated to other parks, but not one person has lost their employment.”
He added: “Yes, there are times when there is no lifeguard sitting by the pool, but that does not mean that there is not one on the premises. We know our business pattern and the times that the pool is unmanned are when we know it is quiet.
“In quieter spells we have lifeguards carrying out other duties like cleaning the pool and conducting various health and safety checks, including the many different chemicals we use, but there are always trained lifeguards and first-aiders on the premises when the pool is open.”
He said that they are installing more panic buttons by the sides of the pool, and if ever one of them is pressed members of staff from all over the building will be automatically alerted and will attend immediately.
One of the biggest bones of contention, however, is the fact that there must always be a minimum of two people in the pool or spa at any one time. Mr Dain explains that this is for health and safety reasons. “Our main concern is for the safety of our customers. We consulted with the Health and Safety Executive and this was their recommendation. If somebody comes in on their own, and there is nobody else in the pool, then they will not be permitted down.”
When asked what would happen if, for example, there were six people swimming and five of them vacated the pool, Mr Dain said that the remaining person would be asked to leave for their own safety. He promised that “common sense would prevail with regards to any refunds.”
Another contentious issue is the ruling stating that if you have consumed any food or alcohol in the one-and-a-half-hours preceeding your visit, you will not be allowed access. “Again, this is for the customers’ own safety,” said Mr Dain. “Our insurers contacted the Health and Safety Executive regarding this and this is what they were advised.”
One further stipulation is that anyone who has a medical condition of any sort should alert the staff before swimming. The reasoning behind this, explained Mr Dain, is that they will therefore be aware in advance of any potential problems, should there be the need to deal with an emergency situation. Anyone suffering from any medical conditions that could possibly cause a danger may also be asked not to enter the pool. Again, this was recommended by the Health and Safety Executive.
Mr Dain was at pains to stress that the regulations are constantly enforced. “We implement these rules at all times, whether there is a lifeguard by the poolside or not, and we vigorously police it. This way there is no chance of a misunderstanding or a slip-up. By doing this, we are just falling in line with other privately-owned swimming pools. A lot of pools in other holiday complexes don’t actually have lifeguards at all.
“We are open to any suggestions with regards to the complex. Anything that will bring money into the business will be considered. We already host weddings, kids parties, lifeguard teaching sessions and swimming lessons at very reasonable prices.”
Mr Dain concluded by saying: “The safety of our customers is paramount. However, we need the cooperation of our customers and guests to ensure the swimming pool and leisure facilities stay open. We are trying all possible measures to ensure we don’t shut down over the winter months. The simple message is: if you don’t use it – you lose it.”
The Health and Safety Executive’s website does, in fact, confirm that there are no specific regulations governing swimming pools.
It does, however, give recommendations on employers’ responsibilities to ensure that the public is not exposed to risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, without incurring disproportionate costs in implementing the measures.
It outlines, that whilst not legal requirements, certain elements should be taken into consideration when deciding on whether or not to have constant poolside supervision. Those factors include the nature of the pool, the activities that take place, and users of the pool. It strongly recommends supervision at all times if, amongst other things, the pool has water deeper than 1.5 metres, or if access is not restricted to members only.
When we contacted Argyll and Bute Council to ask them what their guidelines are regarding lifeguards at the Riverside in Dunoon, we were told by a spokeswoman that there are at least two lifeguards on at any one time.
“We follow the guidelines as set out by the Institute of Sport and Recreational Management, and have two fully qualified lifeguards on at all times when the pool is open. The recommendation is that a 33-metre pool should have two lifeguards, and as the Riverside pool is only 25-metres (the Dolphin has two 25-metre pools, including one for children), we are well within those guidelines.”
What I’d like to know is what happens if a swimmer doesn’t notice they’ve been left in the pool alone when everyone else has gone. Since ther’s no lifeguard, and the staff would appear to be deployed elsewhere by the management, then have they broken the terms of the disclaimer? Can they be thrown out if staff do then notice them on their own? Call the lone swimmer a liar if they say they didn’t notice? Ignore them if they’re drowning, since they’ve effectively broken the contract they signed by swimming alone?
Truly depressing stuff.