Tom J. Griffiths, ED.D. ::::
When accidents occur at swimming pools, water parks and beaches, there are usually two vital areas of omission from which lawsuits are born:
- The failure to supervise, and/or
- The failure to warn.
Many aquatic facilities throughout this country are exempt from the lifeguard requirement. Therefore, if there is no duty to supervise, the duty to warn becomes of paramount importance. Many hotel/motel/resort swimming pools, as well as apartment complexes and other similar swimming pools, do not provide supervision with certified lifeguards. As a result, their obligation to warn becomes even more significant. Unfortunately, most pools have been using the same ineffective signage for more than half a century and do not comply with the most current American National Standard Institute (ANSI), International Safety Organization (ISO), Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) standards. Many pools simply sign too much information and intertwine NICE TO KNOW information with SHOULD KNOW information and MUST KNOW in addition. When too many pool rules are posted, as is often the case, the most important pool rules go unnoticed. For instance, “No Diving” perhaps the most important pool rule because of its sudden and catastrophic consequences, is often sandwiched between rules like “No Glass” and “No Food.” In short, the most important safety messages must be emphasized. Additionally, too many words are used in today’s signage, rather than using universal symbols that are becoming the standard of care internationally. Finally, house-keeping, directional, and informational signage tends to camouflage the most important messages that must be read, understood and complied with by pool users.
Human Factors experts have studied human perception of signs and they have discovered some significant findings:
- Most Americans will only spend three to five seconds reading a sign; therefore, messages must be CLEAR, CONCISE and CONSPICUOUS;
- Vitally important safety messages should not compete for attention with messages of lesser importance like housekeeping and directional signs;
- Symbols and Pictograms must be emphasized over verbiage, with today’s international clientele and the limited amount of time people will spend reading them, and
- Colors, shapes, size, and placement are all significant factors for CONSPICUITY.
Those wishing to reduce accidents, limit their liability, and better defend themselves in lawsuits should reconsider how they warn at their swimming pools and other aquatic venues, particularly when there are “NO LIFEGUARDS ON DUTY.” In an attempt to sign more effectively, highway symbols are often recommended because most people recognize these road hazard signs quickly, without verbiage, and with appropriate colors and shapes alone. Perhaps the best example of effective swimming pool warning signage systems comes from Clarion Safety Systems (www.clarionsafety.com) which combines the best elements of ANSI, OSHA, ISO and the DOT. Not only has Clarion developed the best warning signage system for swimming pools, they also inform the pool owner where and how to place the signs. In the grand scheme of financing the operation and management of swimming pools, warning signage is cheap but it can be a great pool investment. Effective swimming pool signage that meets and exceeds today’s signage standards can be your best insurance policy.