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Toddler Drowning Prevention: Commercial Swim Pools & Wristbands

Toddler Drowning Prevention: Commercial Swim Pools and Wristbands

Surprisingly using a simple waterproof paper wristband may be a key factor in toddler drowning prevention. It certainly has been helpful at my pool. Let me tell you just how with a possible explanation as to why.

Picture of a manikin wearing a bathing suit and a wristband for Toddler Drowning Prevention
It reads: If You can't read this
you are too far away

Toddler Drowning Prevention Introduction

There have been over 40 drownings in Australia from 2003 - 2016. That's just in commercial swimming pools. However, none of those drownings came from the state of Western Australia (WA); where there have been 0. Yes, I did say zero. (From the article Drowning Prevention; it’s all in the wrist.).

This statistic is so impressive that as a result of a recent pool drowning inquest here in Victoria, Life Save Victoria (LSV - The peak reference body when to come to drowning prevention in the state of Victoria, Australia) are making a significant change to their supervision policy; using the WA system. One of those policy changes is the use of wristbands as WA have been using them for some time.

Why Enforce The Wearing of Wristbands?

  • They allow for quick easy identification of our most at-risk swimmers; those under 5 years of age; of whom we only have less than 20 seconds to stop them from drowning. It is not always easy to tell if a child is under 5 or younger

  • They put the parent on notice that we are paying special attention to their child

  • They are a quick and easy identification of the customers that are doing the right thing and staying with their child in the water

  • In exactly the same way as above they are a quick and easy way to identify the customers not doing the right thing

  • They give the Lifeguard (LG) something else to look for when patrolling the pool. Thus it helps them be more alert to our most at-risk patrons

  • It raises the attention of all customers in the centre toward the highest risk swimmers and therefore dramatically increases the number of eyes watching

  • LG's are responsible for up to 100 people and the more eyes that are on younger swimmers the lower the risk of something bad happening

  • It has been shown to help keep children safer

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

Intended Use of Wrist Bands

The idea is that front of office staff or the Customers Service Officer (CSO), hands out the wristbands at the front desk, with a brief explanation as to what they are for and how they should be used by parents and guardians; that is, they are placed on the child's wrist and the instructions: "If you can't reach me you are too far away" are followed.

The children must be kept in arms reach at all times and if the child is in the water a person over the age of 16 must be in the water with them.

It then becomes up to all other staff to enforce, but mostly the Lifeguards.

Picture of a toddler drowning prevention yellow with red writing wrist ban
If You Can't Reach
Close Up

The Benefits of This Policy

In my 15 years of service with my current swim centre, it has always been the policy that parents and guardians of children 4 and under should be in the water with their children. It has only been since the implementation of the wrist band policy, however, that it has been enforceable.

The increase in adult participation in the water has been outstanding. We have gone from a place where Life Guards are expected to be Baby sitters, having to deal with many scary situations of children casually wandering into the deep end and other high-risk situations, to a place that is much, lower risk and an apparent higher toddler drowning prevention.

The Not So Good Side of The Policy

The biggest drawback to this policy is the pushback (negative response) we sometimes get from some customers. CSO's and in particular Lifeguards have all at some time, been on the receiving end of negative and sometimes very aggressive negative responses.

To help alleviate this there are large informational signs distributed around the centre. Also, support from management making it policy that if a child is not wearing a band somewhere visible on their person and they are not within arms reach of a person over 16 they are not allowed in the water or must be removed from it.

I have come up with some scripts (See below) as well that I have found very helpful; to the point that, so far I have received a great deal less negative response.

The Need For A United Front

This policy is only ever working if a united front is presented. It is only human nature to look for the weakest link and exploit it. It matters little whether this exploitation is intentional or not, only that no matter how important a process is, even if it saves the life of a child, someone will try to find a way around it. A united front is the only way to overcome this natural resistance.

Everyone CSO’s, Swim teachers, LG’s, DM’S and everybody else in the pool must be on board with the under 5-year-old's wearing wristbands or it will break down and no longer function as a safety device.

Customers have to be informed that there are no exceptions to the rule. A child whether in swim class or not must be wearing a wristband, be in arms reach and if in the water, must have a carer over 16 in the water with them.

There can be leeway in the placement of the bands, in that children who refuse to have it on their wrist can have its place elsewhere on the child's body or even on their bathing suits, even if they have to be placed out of sight to the child, such as behind them.

The Need for Scripts

As mentioned above, I have a number of suggested scripts for staff to follow. These scripts are ones that I have worked on for quite a while now, both when acting as a Duty Manager, CSO, and LG; believing that there is always a better way to approach people.

These are the ones that I have found to work most effectively for me with the least amount of push back, in that 99% of the people I have asked in this way have happily complied. I don’t suggest that they are perfect and I am always happy to experiment with new versions to see if they are more effective, but I would recommend that these or some other similar standardized script be used with customers.

I think that standardizing such conversation not only presents a united front but also make it easier to handle confronting situations. That is, not only do the right words break down potential tense situations but having a standard script gives our staff the ability to fall back on what they have been trained to say; rather than trying to think of something when under pressure.

It is useful to know all the reasons for the wristband policy and it would probably be useful to have them listed somewhere should it become necessary to direct customers to it. However, unless they ask we don’t need to give the customer too much information. Most do not want long explanations and feel patronized if you try to give them one. Besides all the information above as to why we use wristbands would, in most cases be overload when talking to customers.

Hence the need for a script; something that concisely states what we need customers to know but won’t burden them with verbosity.

The Scripts:

    A CSO Approach Customers

“Here is a wrist band for your child [children]. It is so the lifeguards can quickly identify those under 5 as they are our highest risk customers. And Of course, you know that you need to keep the child in arms reach at all times and if they are in the water an adult 'Must' be in the water with them.
Thank you”

    A Lifeguards Approach

Having observed a child who appears to be under 5 not wearing a wristband
The script assumes that the child identified as not having a wristband, 'is' under 5. If it turns out that they are not under 5 as determined by the question "How old are they" the conversation ends with a "thank you" and the LG moving on.

“Hello Mum” [or “Dad”]

“Is this little one yours?”

“How old are they may I ask?”

“Did you get a wristband for them?” “I can get you one if you like”

“Children under 5 are our customer at greatest risk. We have less than 20 seconds to identify that they are in difficulty. Could I ask you to put it on them please?”

“I wonder if you are aware that you or another adult is required to be in the water with your child and in arms reach at all times?”

“Could you do me a big favour and arrange for yourself or someone over 16 to be in the water with your child even if they are just wading with them and keeping them in arms reach?”

    Notes on A Lifeguards Approach

{The use of "Mum or Dad" as a form of address is almost universally accepted positively, regardless of the relationship of the child to the carer. If there is a correction needed the carer is nearly always happy to provide the correction without feeling offended.}

{You must wait for a response at the end of each question! Even if you are sure you know the answer. You need to be respectful. Doing anything else is just presumptive and rude and will almost always result in negative reactions}

{When offering to make arrangements for a wristband make sure you do so as necessary. Failing to do so indicates you are not really interested in the child’s safety and if anything happens the consequences could be on your head}

{Giving a reason for your request straight up, stops further questioning and potential confrontation}

{Regardless of the answer to the “I wonder if...” question you always give the response “could you do me a big favour...”}

{Make sure you use the terms “in arms reach” not “at arm's length” the latter is too open for misinterpretation}

{Putting things in the form of a request, even if it isn’t one, usually defuses the situation and improves the chances of compliance}

What To Do With Those That won't

Those that persistently refuse, after every effort has been made to persuade them, must be politely and firmly asked and required to remove their child from the water.


I have personally seen a marked improvement in all the benchmarks for toddler drowning prevention since the enforcement of wristbands at our pool. In my opinion, particularly in light of the significant anecdotal evidence from both WA and the support that evidence is given by LSV, this should be considered one of the highest priorities that a pool has for implementation and I am pleased to recommend these suggestions to you.



  1. prevention is better then cure... this saying is a perfect fit for the above scenario. i saw many people don't take this very seriously but later had to pay, so always take precautionary steps before letting kids go into the pool

  2. Whaoooo!!. Thank you so much. Great post