Swimming Pool & Water Safety

This guidance provides advice on how to manage swimming pools to avoid accidents and ill health, and to comply with the law.

Legal Requirements

There are no health and safety laws specifically for swimming pools but pool operators must comply with their general duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 which requires that appropriate action is taken to eliminate or control risks so far as is reasonably practicable. In practice this will mean carrying out a risk assessment which is a careful examination of aspects of the operation and use of the pool during both normal conditions and in the event of an emergency.

Practical Safety Management

  • Look for the hazards which may cause harm to users or employees.
  • Decide who may be harmed and how.
  • Take appropriate action to eliminate or control the risks.

When you have completed the risk assessment you should write it down, and include it in your safety policy and Pool Safety Operating Procedure, (PSOP). The PSOP should consist of a written Normal Operating Plan (NOP) and a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

  • The NOP should set out the way a pool operates on a daily basis. It should include details of the layout, equipment, manner of use, user group characteristics, water treatment, and any hazards or activity-related risks.
  • The EAP should give specific instructions on the action to be taken, by all staff and visitors, in the event of any emergency.

Where the pool is hired out, say to a school or club, they should be given the relevant sections of the procedures. The emergency provisions should consider the types of first aid provision required, for instance to deal with chemical injuries, or electric shock, and obviously resuscitation following water inhalation.

Safety Signs

Signs should be provided where necessary to give instructions to users on the safe use of the pool and equipment; Safety signs will be required:

  • Where there are sudden changes in depth and it is necessary to clearly mark the depth of water, especially at shallow and deep ends
  • To show areas where it is unsafe to swim or dive
  • Where there are slippery surfaces.

The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 describe how safety signs should be designed, and can be listed as follows:

  • Prohibition signs (no diving, no running: must be a white circle with red edging and a red diagonal line)
  • Warning signs (the depth of water, general danger: must be triangular with black edging and a yellow background)
  • Information signs (first-aid post, fire exit: must be green with white wording/ illustrations).
  • Acoustic signals are also safety signs under these Regulations and may be needed, for example with wave machines.

Pool Design

  • Wet areas around pools should be on a level, avoiding where possible steps or sudden changes in floor level.
  • The pool surround should be wide enough to avoid congestion.
  • The pool edge should be a contrasting colour from the pool and surrounding.
  • Sufficient ladders or steps must be fitted for access into and out of the pool.
  • Steps giving access to water slides should avoid queues of users near deep water.
  • All wet area floor surfaces, steps and ladders should be free of sharp edges and of a non-slip or slip resistant design.
  • Structures for water slides and diving boards should be corrosion proofed and free from sharp edges.
  • Glazing should be safe for users, and where there is a risk of breakage glazing must be of safety material.
  • Large areas of glass may need to be marked to avoid children running into the glass.
  • Water outlets and their grilles within the pool should be designed so that fingers cannot get trapped nor that the suction may result in entrapment of hair etc.
  • Access from any direction into the pool area must be controlled to prevent young children wandering in and falling into the water. Thus, indoor pools access doors must be strongly self closing and have, as a minimum, a high level latch out of reach of young children. Outdoor pools should be surveyed to ensure there are no uncontrolled access points. Railings, barriers and gates may be necessary.

Pool Supervision

The requirements for pool supervision should be determined from the risk assessment. The main consideration is whether or not the pool should have constant supervision. Constant supervision may not be necessary if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The pool is less than 1.5m (4'9") deep.
  • The pool water area is smaller than 170m2.
  • Children (under 15 years of age) do not use the pool without adult supervision.
  • No diving is permitted.
  • No particularly risky equipment is provided.
  • There are no abrupt changes in depth.
  • Crowded conditions will not occur.
  • Food or alcohol is not available to pool users.
  • Users are made fully aware of the pool rules, and the need to be responsible for their own safety. This may be practicable in private facilities such as hotels, where access is restricted to residents.

Where a risk assessment determines that constant supervision is not required the arrangements should include:

  • Signs in the pool area showing the depth of the water.
  • Suitable rescue equipment as laid down in section 6 below.
  • An alarm/telephone to summon help in an emergency.
  • A written safety procedure which should be displayed at the entrance, changing rooms and poolside. The notice should include the following information.
  • The times when the pool is open.
  • A clear warning that the pool does not have a lifeguard.
  • Children must be supervised by an adult.
  • Adults should not bathe alone.
  • Locations and use of the rescue equipment.
  • Location and use of the emergency telephone/alarm and instructions to its use in an emergency.

Pool operators must also ensure that in the absence of a lifeguard a member of staff is designated as "on call" to respond immediately to the alarm and deal with any emergency. It is essential that such staff are trained in pool rescue, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques.

When lifeguards are provided they must be properly qualified, with a qualification from a recognised training organisation. Where the pool is supervised it must be supervised at all times it is open. Arrangements must be made for meal breaks and shift changes to ensure that the pool is supervised at all times.

Emergency Equipment

Suitable rescue equipment must be provided, such as a long pole reaching at least half the width of the pool, buoyancy aids and throwing ropes. These must be available at the poolside and be clearly identifiable.

Emergency alarms where installed must have clear written instructions as to their use and a different sound from any other alarms, so that the sound is clearly identifiable as a pool alarm. Rescue equipment and alarms must be regularly checked and/or tested.

Pool Covers

Where pool covers are fitted and access to the pool is not adequately restricted (See pool design (4) above) they must be of a type which can be secured continuously around the edges and capable of supporting the weight of a person falling or walking onto the cover. Employers should make sure that the job of fitting and removing the cover does not carry a risk of manual handling injury for the pool attendant.

Water Treatment

The pool needs a system to ensure the quality and clarity of the bathing water, and most pools are fitted with a pump, a water treatment system and a filtration system. The systems must be operated, tested, checked and maintained to ensure that the water remains clear and safe for bathing at all times the pool is in use. Therefore, checks should be carried out to determine the clarity of the pool water and a system should be in place to restrict use until the water clarity is at a safe standard.

The design of the water circulation system should avoid suction pipes which can trap swimmers, particularly where the swimmers may have long hair. Chemicals must be stored and used safely. Current operating instructions and safety information must be obtained from the equipment and chemicals suppliers, and incorporated into the pool operating procedure. Staff must have adequate training in the operation of water treatment systems, and the use of chemicals.

Suitable precautions must be taken to protect users during maintenance or water treatment activities.

First Aid Provision

Pool operators have a duty towards those using their pool, and therefore the needs of the pool users should be considered as part of the risk assessment in relation to first aid provision. Specialised equipment and the first aid box should be properly stored and labelled (in accordance with the details given under safety signs). The box and its contents as well as the equipment should be regularly checked to ensure it is in good condition.

General Safety Advice

Apart from risks of drowning, injuries from sharp edges, injuries caused from running or unruly behaviour, the most common injuries sustained in swimming pools are cuts from glass in the pool, usually broken drinks glasses. When in the water drinks glasses become invisible. It is recommended that food and drinks are kept away from the pool area, and in particular that drinks glasses are not permitted in the pool area.

Further information regarding pool safety "Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools" (HSG179) is free to download.

The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG) has guidance on swimming pool water quality and treatment which is recognised by enforcement authorities as the standard to be achieved in effectively managed swimming pools and a useful resource for pool operators when drawing up their operating procedures.

Spa Pools/Hot tubs

The management and maintenance of these is important to ensure that they are maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and to help prevent adverse skin reactions or ill health to staff and users caused by exposure to bacteria such as legionella or pseudomonas. You can find more information on:

  • HSE the control of legionella and other infection agents in spa pool systems
  • HSE risks associated with using spa baths.


Legionellosis is the collective name given to the pneumonia-like illness caused by legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. The bacteria are common in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes and reservoirs, but usually in low numbers but may also be found in purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and whirlpool spas.

If conditions are favourable, the bacteria may grow increasing the risks of legionnaires’ disease and it is therefore important to control the risks.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) requires a specific assessment to be undertaken where there is a risk of exposure to micro-organisms such as bacteria.

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