Keeping swimmers safe this summer

If your church is planning outings, events, or camps that involve swimming, you’re taking on a fair amount of risk. In the United States, an average of 3,500 to 4,000 people drown every year — that’s an average of 10 fatal drownings per day.
We talked with Eric Spacek, assistant vice president for Risk Control at Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I., about some of the ways you can keep both children and adults safe while they swim.

What kind of supervision should we provide for swimming activities?

Spacek: First of all, you should always have an adult in charge who is 21 or older and certified as a lifeguard. This person could be from your church, or they could be employed at the place where you are swimming. Generally, there should be one lifeguard for every 25 swimmers in a large pool, or one for every 15 swimmers in a small pool.

But a lifeguard isn’t enough — especially if you have younger children in your group. There should also be supervisors who keep a close eye on your swimmers. The younger they are, the more supervisors there should be to serve as water watchers.

How do we determine and keep track of swimmers’ individual abilities?

Spacek: Church Mutual offers swimming safety materials to its customers at no cost. These materials include evaluations that can be used to determine swimmers’ skills, guidelines for lifeguards and supervisors, and a sample kit with color-coded wristbands that clearly show the swimmer’s level of ability.

  • Red is for non-swimmer — This includes children under the age of seven and those who are unable to demonstrate any basic skills. They should stay in wading areas.
  • Yellow is for intermediate swimmer — Some children can submerge their heads under water and perform a few basic strokes. But they can’t keep themselves afloat or swim for any sizable distance, which is why they should be sticking to areas where they can comfortably stand.
  • Green is for qualified swimmer — These children can tread water, swim using several different strokes, float on their backs for a substantial amount of time and easily enter and exit the water. They are strong swimmers, and while they still require a lifeguard’s supervision, they may be allowed greater freedom.

What kind of safety equipment do we need when we’re taking a church group swimming?

Spacek: Whether you are at a pool, beach, quarry or other body of water, you should have on hand:

  • A ring buoy and rope — You can toss the buoy to a distressed swimmer and tow them back to shore or the side of the pool.
  • A life vest — U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vests are the best choice — particularly if the swimming area includes some very deep sections.
  • A first-aid kit — This is an absolute must. You may need to administer first aid for anything from a stubbed toe to an open gash. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have waterproof bandages on hand.

How do we make sure all staff members are on the same page?

Spacek: It’s important that you have a written policy detailing all your church’s protocols for water-related outings and train your employees and volunteers on the policy. This is also an important asset to have should the unthinkable happen, and someone gets injured or drowns on one of these outings.

Eric Spacek is Assistant Vice President — Risk Control, Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I.


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