The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 4, 2008

Safety law too vague

Water park regulations should be much tougher

By the News & Eagle Editorial Board

The recent tragedy of a drowning in a public swimming park points out some questions about how public swimming areas and parks are regulated.

Just recently, the Department of Labor became responsible for inspecting the water slides that operate in water parks. The Department of Labor has regulated and inspected rides in amusement parks, but, until about a year ago, there was a gap in inspections of the water park slides.

The county health department is responsible for regulating the water quality of public swimming areas. That’s also important to make sure the chemicals are balanced and there is no danger from bacteria or chemicals in public swimming places.

However, there seems to be a real lack of inspection or accountability of other safety features and policies of water parks. The policies seem very vague in regard to the number of lifeguards required at a public swimming pool or what regulations should prevail to deal with park patrons who don’t know how to swim.

The law requires the number of lifeguards on duty “be such as to provide reasonable general supervision” of the activities of all persons in the pool area. That is very vague, and also very subjective. The recommendation is at least one lifeguard be provided for each 75 persons in the swimming pool.

What we don’t know is if water parks are employing the number of lifeguards necessary each day to accommodate the maximum number of people using the pool. The number of swimmers can change day to day, but it would seem the law should specify the maximum number of lifeguards always should be required.

There also seems to be a lack of accountability for making sure all lifeguards are trained and certified. The law specifies lifeguards must complete an advanced course in lifesaving and water safety equivalent to that offered by the American Red Cross or YMCA. However, are they required to take refresher courses during the course of a summer? What kind of ongoing training is required? What should the standard procedures be in addressing an accident or injury that takes place at a water park?

Water parks are great places for families to spend the summer. Communities that have public water parks or public swimming areas see it as a quality-of-life issue. Yet, it does seem there needs to be some tightening of safety regulations, or at least more specific guidelines, so both park operators and patrons know what is expected and what is required.