Pool risk in plain sight

Maria Bella, an aquatics and drowning expert, works with swimming pool managers to best position lifeguards and identify potential safety risks.

Using underwater targets and three synchronized cameras mounted to represent lifeguard stands at different heights, she compares the lifeguard’s view from each location. She presents that information to pool managers and then helps them to determine what height lifeguard chairs are needed and where those chairs need to be placed so that lifeguards are in a position to best identify a struggling patron; whether they’re at the surface, just below it, or at the bottom of the pool.

In a photo example from the pool’s current lifeguard position of 2½ feet, it is difficult to see two children swimming just under the surface of the water, but at a 6- and 8-feet chair positions, the children are clearly visible.

Consumer Reports says this phenomenon is due to glare off the water and the refraction of light; when light bends as it travels from the water into the air. From a low position at the edge of a pool, light refraction from the water and glare from the sun or overhead lighting can significantly limit the lifeguard’s ability to see all areas within the water.

The American Lifeguard Association suggests that the lifeguard chair should be 6 to 8 feet in height to give a better overall view of the area the guard is covering. Lifeguard stands should be placed in such a way that they allow for full coverage of the swimming area.

Trained, professional lifeguards play a vital role in water safety, but even when there are lifeguards on duty, a responsible adult should always monitor children. Also, consider asking the pool management if they’ve ever done an assessment of the location of the lifeguard stands around the pool.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s “Pool Safely” campaign works to reduce child drownings. You can read up on pool safety and download their safety tips at poolsafety.gov.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org.

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