Afterthought safety at many Chennai pools

According to recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 9.3% of accidental deaths in India (36,362 deaths) were caused by drowning in 2021. Photo: Oliver Fischbach/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In August this year, an eight-year-old girl died of drowning in the swimming pool of an apartment complex in Ambattur. This is not an isolated case. According to recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 9.3% of accidental deaths in India (36,362 deaths) were caused by drowning in 2021. Metropolitan cities like Chennai have many swimming pools, including those in resorts. apartments. However, many fail to follow basic safety protocols, leading to accidental drownings.

The role of the authorities is currently limited to granting authorizations with the promise of carrying out periodic checks. The responsibility for safety also rests with the owners and users of the swimming pool.

Lifeguards and swimming coaches at swimming pools

Safety requirements for city swimming pools are outlined in the Tamil Nadu Urban Local Bodies (ULB) Rules (Swimming Pool Regulation and Supervision), 2015.

Every swimming pool at any facility must have a pool manager who will be held responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of all facilities and for upkeep of all pool life safety measures. They are responsible for any breach.

Similarly, lifeguards and swimming coaches or instructors should be appointed at all swimming pools, except for swimming pools in individual living units. The minimum number of lifeguards is two for a pool size of 150 square meters and less, and a proportional increase for larger pools.

In the case of swimming pools at educational institutions, in addition to the lifeguard, a competent swimming coach/instructor must also be provided, who has adequate knowledge of first aid and artificial respiration. Swimming pools are classified into four categories, depending on their size. The minimum number of lifeguards varies according to each category.

Qualification for trainer, instructor and lifeguard

Lifeguard : A person with a National Sports Institute Certificate (6-week course) in swimming issued by the National Sports Institute can be appointed as a swimming instructor to teach swimming to beginners and novices.

Swimming coach: A person with a National Sports Institute Diploma in Coaching (Swimming), issued by the National Sports Institute, may be appointed as a swimming coach to train swimmers for competitive swimming training and to teach novices .

Rescuer: To be appointed as a lifeguard, a person must have minimum qualification of pass 8 standard, swimming pool lifeguard course certificate from Rashtriya Life Saving Society – India (RLSS) and experience in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) procedure .

The practical ability and alertness of instructors, coaches and rescuers to rescue children in an emergency must be tested before they are actually deployed. Fire and rescue personnel must verify the abilities of lifeguards, instructors and trainers before granting the no-objection certificate for the operation of swimming pools.

The duty time of swim coaches/instructors and lifeguards shall not exceed eight hours per day and no more than four hours at a time. A sufficient number of reserve lifeguards with the prescribed qualifications must also be available.

Pool managers must keep a register of people to allow them to use the pool, with restrictions for children and people with chronic or contagious diseases. Those who have consumed alcohol should also not be allowed in the swimming pools.

Children trained in the swimming pool
Lifeguards and swim coaches are mandatory for city pools Photo: Rashtriya Life Saving Society (RLSS)

Tarun Murugesh, a lifeguard instructor and master trainer from the Tamil Nadu chapter of the Rashtriya Life Saving Society (RLSS), the organization chosen by the government for the certification of lifeguards, noted that the existing rules were developed after proper research. .

However, failure to follow the rules leads to accidental drowning deaths. “Many people who used to go swimming two or three times a week before the COVID-19-induced lockdown have started going swimming almost every day now. This means there is more chance of untoward incidents, especially since few apartment complexes have recruited trained lifeguards and other staff,” he says.

“While there should ideally be one lifeguard/pool attendant for every 25 swimmers, many apartments don’t even have a lifeguard,” he says.

Highlighting the aforementioned incident in Ambattur where the security guard helped pull the child out, he noted that anyone could pull the drowning person out. “It’s only part of the rescue, but when it comes to resuscitation, the rescuer needs to know the correct recovery position and how to perform CPR. In most cases, they should continue to perform CPR even in the ambulance and ensuring that the patient is transported to the nearest hospital in time will all make a difference in saving lives,” he says.


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Safety devices in swimming pools

In accordance with the standards, the owner or occupant of the swimming pool must provide the necessary life-saving devices in sufficient number such as first aid kits, oxygen cylinders, breathing apparatus, artificial respirator, buoys for beginners, life jackets, belts lifeguards, stretchers, rescue hooks, cardiopulmonary resuscitation pocket masks, rescue tubes and lifeguard stands for pools of a certain size that impose these requirements.

The pool owner or occupier must also take adequate precautions to prevent harassment of women.

A general purpose first aid kit should be provided to treat minor bumps, bruises and sprains. It should be prominently mounted within the pool enclosure, or a sign indicating its location should be posted near the pool. The first aid kit must be accessible when the pool is open.

In addition to the first aid kit, an emergency response kit should be provided, which includes items such as an emergency survival blanket, staggered bandage pad, rescue breather and Ambu bags, among other items.

A telephone accessible near the pool, in or within 300 feet of the pool enclosure must also be provided and a list of telephone numbers for local police, state police, fire department , doctor, ambulance service and hospital, should be posted in a conspicuous place near the telephone. The location of the emergency telephone must be displayed in the pool area.

Where apartment pools waver

Many apartment complexes and other establishments do not provide the above features which would significantly improve safety at city pools. In many cases, even first aid kits contain expired products.

H Karthik, a resident of an apartment complex in KK Nagar, said he was unaware of the safety standards required for swimming pools and the appointment of pool staff. “As I have been swimming since childhood, I only look for pools with clean water. The pool in my apartment complex is not well maintained, so I usually go to private pools,” he says.


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The main reason for such a lax attitude towards safety, according to Tarun, is that when the apartment complexes are built, they get permission to build the swimming pools, which is a one-time permission. Even if changes are made to pool functionality after permission is granted, there is no mechanism to audit it.

“These pools are maintained by the builders the first year and then handed over to owners who have no idea of ​​the protocols. They install colored lights for aesthetic purposes, while the main reason for good lighting in swimming pools is to ensure clear water for easy drowning identification. Many owners are unaware of this,” he says.

Going forward, Tarun suggested that the responsibility for ensuring safety should rest with owners. “Pools should be licensed for the short term and owners should be responsible for renewing them every year. This is helpful for annual audits in terms of structure and safety,” he said, adding that the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and Chennai Corporation officials should also carry out surprise inspections from time to time. .

Hold offenders accountable

On paper, the law states that those intending to build a swimming pool must obtain permission from local agency officials and a certificate of no objection from a committee chaired by the city’s police commissioner. of Chennai and the Chennai Metropolitan Region and has the Secretary Member of the CMDA as the Competent Authority.

When executive authorities conduct random audits of city pools, if a violation is found, use of the pool will be suspended and a show cause notice will be sent to pool owners/occupiers. A period of one week would be granted to the owner/occupant to respond to the show cause notice. Pool owners/occupiers are required to bring the structure into compliance with the regulations within the time period specified in the notice.

At present, the penalty for non-compliance is a paltry sum of Rs 100 and suspension from use of the pool until violations are rectified. However, in the event of accidents or death due to non-compliance, a complaint to the police is filed against the owners/occupiers or contractors — in the case where pool maintenance is contracted out — and they are held responsible.

Following the Ambattur incident, CMDA officials said that more random checks on a periodic basis would be carried out to avoid such unfortunate incidents.

Swimming pools have become a key feature in the marketing of many residential properties in the city. However, these features also come at a price. If security measures are not in place, the price to pay becomes a life. To avoid such loss of life due to drowning in swimming pools, ensuring safety standards through the vigilance of pool users and frequent checks by authorities is the way to go.

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