The Risk of Ramps

Ramps have become a standard component of new aquatic facilities over the last 20 years, with large metropolitan facilities often having accessible ramp options into multiple pool spaces. Ramps have become such a core feature in new facility design, that some newly planned pools include ramps into each body of water.

But the question is being asked as to whether the current approach to ramps, is the best approach for the Industry, or whether there is a failing to understand and acknowledge some of the risks, costs and limitations which come with them.

Accessible entry options are a legal requirement for new public pool facilities, where the pool perimeter exceeds 40m in length. This requirement is clearly set out in the ‘Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standard 2010’ and enforced in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. But accessible ramps aren’t the only available option to achieve this requirement. Acceptable options include:

  • a fixed or movable ramp and an aquatic wheelchair; or
  • a zero-depth entry at a maximum gradient of 1:14 and an aquatic wheelchair; or
  • a platform swimming pool lift and an aquatic wheelchair; or
  • a sling‑style swimming pool lift

Whilst the options above satisfy the requirement of the Standard, it seems that increasingly designers, architects and aquatic industry consultants are being advised that ramps are the option of choice for new or redevelopment facilities.

Whilst ramps are a suitable option in some instances, this is not always the case, and it is important to acknowledge the three key risks which ramps introduce at a facility. These risks are i) patron safety, ii) lifeguard supervision and iii) reduced programmable space.

Patron Safety: Ramps are an attractive nuisance for children and offer an area of shallow water enabling youngsters to run at break neck speed the way they would run into the water at the beach. The trips, slips and falls risk is significant and a regular matter for lifeguards to have to address. Climbing (or more to the point falling) is also a risk and can quickly become a hazard when young children end up in the deep water. Finally, entrapment is a risk. Whilst the distances between handrails and pool walls is specified, entrapment of hands, feet and heads remains a risk. Whilst the outcome is usually just a bruise, sprain or strain, the potential injury is far more serious if the entrapment occurs beneath the surface.

Lifeguard Supervision: There are a variety of challenges which ramps introduce for supervising lifeguards. First and foremost there is the work required to address the safety matters above and continually work to keep the ramp free of young children. Secondly there is the line of sight issue associated with the ramp, whereby the lifeguard can’t see on the other side of the in-water wall regardless of how high they try.  Thirdly there is the use of ramps linking pools and the associated risk of young children using the ramps unnoticed and working their way towards areas of deep water. And finally, there is the patient recovery and extraction challenge. There are currently no taught techniques for safe lifeguard water entry or patient extraction over the top of a ramp wall / handrail. This is a challenge and should be considered through in-service training. This is especially the case in deeper water where longer tows will likely be required.

Reduced Programable Space: In an industry which is continually being told that its operating costs are too high and where space is at a premium, consideration should be given to the opportunity cost associated with the incorporation of ramps. Each ramp is similar in size to a pool lane and the incorporation of two, three or even four ramps means the reduction of the programable space and the subsequent reduction in income generating potential. With so many facilities having waiting lists for swimming lessons and with the private learn to swim sector not taking the same approach to ramps, there is the risk that users will go elsewhere and might not come back.

Providing safe and suitable pool access to all members of the community must remain a key component in the design of any aquatic facility. However, there are multiple options to achieve this and the most suitable option should give consideration to a wide range of factors. These factors should include the ‘pro-ramp’ elements such as community expectations and population demographics, with equal consideration being given to the risks and restrictions including safety, supervision and available programmable space.

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