Swimming Pool & Water Safety

Advice on how to manage swimming pools

By following the advice, you can avoid potential accidents, prevent causing ill health and 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.

A suggested structure for PSOP is in BS EN 15288-2:2008.

Pool design

For the management of swimming pools to be effective in any swimming pool it starts with careful design. Those involved in designing new pools or refurbishing existing ones must provide, so far as it is reasonably practicable, a safe facility for pool users and staff.

Safety signs

Signs should be provided where necessary to give instructions to users on the safe use of the pool and equipment.

Safety signs are needed

  • 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
  • To indicate sudden changes in depth that could pose a hazard
  • If it is necessary to provide instructions on the safe use of the pool and its equipment
  • Where there are slippery surfaces

The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 describe how safety signs should be designed

  • Prohibition signs eg; no diving, no running, must be a white circle with red edging and a red diagonal line
  • Warning signs eg; the depth of water, general danger, must be triangular with black edging and a yellow background
  • Information signs eg; first-aid post, fire exit: must be green with white wording/ illustrations)
  • Sound signals are also safety signs. Under the regulations they may be needed, for example when a wave machine is about to start
  • Signs should be unobstructed and maintained

Ensuring the safety of pool users

The measures required to ensure the safety of pool users must be determined by your site-specific risk assessment. The risk assessment must include the physical hazards but also those that relate to swimmers and swimming related activities. When assessing the need for supervision, you should consider local circumstances and the way the pool is used.

Poolside supervision

Constant poolside supervision (watching the water) by lifeguards provides the best assurance of pool users’ safety. Where the site-specific risk assessment has shown that constant poolside supervision is not reasonably practicable, robust, alternative measures must be implemented to ensure the safety of pool users.

The pool operator is responsible for ensuring that there are enough lifeguards and that they are competent, effectively organised and diligent in their duties. This should be addressed in the risk assessment and also includes assessing whether hirers of pools have made effective and safe arrangements for supervision.

When you assess the level of supervision required you must ensure you have a robust system to ensure the safety of pool users. These should focus on

  • preventing pool users getting into difficulty by intervening early and promoting responsible behaviour
  • identifying pool users in difficulty
  • procedures to effectively perform a rescue

A risk assessment must be undertaken to determine the level of supervision required. Consider the following when carrying out your risk assessment

  • the nature of the pool (public, school, hotel, holiday park etc)
  • pool design (for example layout, access from changing rooms)
  • pool depth and abrupt changes in the depth
  • pool water area
  • pool and pool hall features (for example glare, reflections, blind spots)
  • the demographic and ability of pool users, if known
  • occupancy levels
  • nature of activities in the pool (children’s play session, club swimming, swimming lesson)
  • pool features posing additional risk, for example features creating turbulent water, use of inflatable equipment, flumes, diving boards etc
  • if/where diving is permitted
  • the practicability of enforcing house rules for safe behaviour
  • access/admission arrangements, for example unrestricted access to hotel residents, child admission ratios

Where a risk assessment determines that constant supervision is not required you must still implement effective control measures to reduce the risk to pool users as far as reasonably practicable. The arrangements can include a combination of measures such as

  • providing poolside supervision in specified circumstances and/or at specified times
  • Signs in the pool area showing the depth of the water
  • poolside checks at agreed intervals
  • Suitable rescue equipment such as poles, buoyancy aids, throw bags, being available at the poolside
  • Emergency contact arrangements such as an alarm/telephone to summon help
  • signs at the entrance, in the changing rooms and in the pool area indicating that the pool is not staffed and drawing attention to simple rules of use and safety
  • control and monitoring of the number of people allowed to use the pool at any one time
  • the use of technology and drowning detection systems
  • control of lone swimmers
  • avoiding steep gradients that may take pool users unawares

When the pool is in use, there must be a safe system of work to identify a person in difficulty and ensure that a rescue can be performed. For example, in the absence of lifeguards there should be designated ‘on-call’ competent staff, to respond immediately to deal with any emergency. They should be suitably trained in pool rescue, CPR techniques and capable of reaching the poolside in time to perform a rescue and provide emergency first aid if the alarm is raised. 

You should test your arrangements for identifying someone in difficulty and the effectiveness of your emergency response. Rescue procedures should be tested periodically using an unannounced, realistic drill to ensure that the theory works in practice. It is advisable to record this.

If you use CCTV to monitor pool use, it should be arranged to see all parts of the pool hall. Ensure that you have effective arrangements for monitoring the CCTV feeds, with robust procedures to help pool users in difficulty and perform a rescue if required. The person monitoring the CCTV should be able to identify pool users in difficulty, as well as anyone behaving irresponsibly.


When the site-specific risk assessment has shown that constant supervision is required it is the responsibility of the pool operator to ensure there are enough lifeguards and that they are competent, effectively organised and diligent in their duties.

Emergency equipment

The risk assessment should identify any essential rescue equipment. It should be kept in its proper place, checked daily and must be maintained in good working order.

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. 

Hot and cold water systems also present a foreseeable risk of exposure to legionella bacteria if not properly managed.

All showers should be managed in accordance with HSE’s L8 Legionnaires’ disease advice.

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.

Spa pools and 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. 


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.