Health and safety risk assessments for public or private communal water features.
How I risk assess water features.
Risk assessing water features can be a tricky job for the person responsible. There is very little information on this specific problem and quite often people are left to either make their own judgements with very little experience or use swimming pool guide lines.
This can lead to health and safety overkill in many cases. The over use of signs and inappropriate rescue equipment may lead the person in charge to believe the feature is safe when the most important issue has been completely overlooked.
This article has been written to be used as an example of how I risk assess water features and is not an article on how you should risk asses your water feature. Some of the dangers I mention may or may not apply to a water feature you have to asses. Water Scenes accepts no responsibility for injury or damage as a result of your own risk assessment.
The advice offered in this article is written to help you to think about the ways you might tackle an assessment yourself and hopefully highlight areas you may not have considered.
For information on risk assessments visit the UK Health & Safety Executive.
This video below gives a light harted overview of the five steps to risk assessment.
The first things I do is stand back and take a look at the feature and its surroundings.
Questions I ask myself.
Does the feature need to be made safe for 8 hours, 12hours or 24hours a day?
Deciding this early on saved time and effort and reduced the risk of electric shock by up to 50% if the feature is switched off at night. Other benefits include less equipment wear and tear.
Is the feature visible to pedestrians from different angles?
This helps identify any blind spots that could cause an accident if approached from the wrong direction. A good way to fix this would be to erect a fence or hedge. Benches also help as they can act as a covert barrier.
Can the feature be seen from surrounding buildings?
This alone will not stop accidents but does increase the likelihood of further problems. The more buildings that over look a feature, the less likely the risk of fatalities. If however the feature is not visible or is partially visible it may be worth considering CCTV or switching off at times to help reduce the risk.
Is the feature at risk of people climbing on it?
Water features come in all shapes and sizes and can pose a risk if climbed on. This could lead to injury or damage to the feature. If you feel this could potentially be a problem you will need to try and discourage it. Erecting a small fence or hedge as a barrier can help. Also the use of aquatic planting in the feature entry points can help to remedy the problem. Turning the feature off when the area is less busy, at night for instance, will further reduce slipping risks as the feature will dry out and give better grip.
Is the feature near anything that combined with the feature could cause an accident?
This could be a tree, wall, building or trip risk for instance. On its own the water feature may not cause any risk problems and nor would a tree. The two combined in close proximity however may pose unforeseeable risks and will need to be considered. You should also look for trip risks that are quite near the feature as people may injure themselves if they have to walk off the designated walk way due to area congestion.
Remember, people’s attention will likely be drawn to the feature thus taking their attention away from potential collisions.
Is the feature visible at night?
Most outside public areas only light footpaths etc. If the feature is in the middle of a green or on a hill it may not be visible and therefore a danger. Underwater lights would safely illuminate the feature or a flood light with the sensor pointing to the feature. It may also help to leave the feature running around the clock so the noise can act as a signal.
How exposed is the feature to the elements?
Too much sun, rain or wind can cause risks to health and safety. Over exposure to heat and UV rays can cause excessive amounts of algae and puts pressure on the feature equipment. This may increase the risk of electrocution. The ambient temperature can also heat the pond to levels that would promote the growth of potentially dangerous bacteria.
Rain build up in water features causes the feature to prematurely age and structural issues that pose a injury risk due to lose edgings and fixings.
If the feature is in a windy position it can cause water to blow out of its water catchment area which may cause a slip risk and can sometimes even empty the feature. An empty feature can mean that the equipment will burn out and cause potential electrocution. A windy position will also make the feature prone to filling with leaves and rubbish.
I now walk as near to the feature as possible. This should be done from all viewing points.
Questions I ask myself.
How deep is the water?
Water less than 75cm is considered to be shallow and can be made safe by erecting a small fence or hedge to discourage smaller people from climbing or falling in.
Water deeper than 75cm could possibly need to be protected and depending on the size, it may need rescue equipment to be provided. Use only appropriate floatation devices. The old style heavy plastic rings are now considered to be a risk factor themselves in this sort of rescue situation.
If a person falls in how easy would it be to get out?
You may need to fully protect the feature if you think the existing pool could cause a problem. A pool with shelves, steps or a sloping edge will make it easier to exit but is dependent on clear water.
Water clarity needs to be observed and tested as the clearer the pond the easier it will be to see or plan your route out to dry land. You can completely cover the pool or add steps to reduce this risk.
What kind of protection is already in place?
I would hope that some kind of health and safety considerations have been made and implemented even if you now consider them to be inadequate. Read all information on the feature and evaluate this against your own findings. Check all existing safety features are in good working order and fit for purpose.
Is there any way or anywhere a person or animal could become trapped?
This risk mainly involves younger people but not exclusively. Small openings pose the biggest risk but it will pay to keep all angles covered.
What kind of people are at risk and who does the feature need to be protected from?
Adults, youths, children, disabled, hospital patients and the elderly all pose a varying degree of risk. You will need to identify who is most at risk and then consider any potential risks they may encounter. Water features are used in all types of landscapes and can be found in hospitals, schools, parks and business grounds such as hotels, golf courses and office blocks. It would make sense to first identify who is not at risk and then put the remainder of people into order of their risk level.
Is there any risk to animals or by animals?
You might not see animals as a risk but they are worth considering for their sake and human health. Dead animals or fish can go unseen and can lead to water contamination. This is a risk to public health if contaminated water is ingested or comes into contact with cuts or grazes.
Is there enough room to view the feature without blocking passersby or creating bottle necks?
Water features naturally attract passersby and draw them to congregate around the feature area which most of the time is not a problem. You however need to observe peak time use to be sure there is enough room for people to pass without causing them to leave the walkway or put themselves in un necessary danger.
What is the state of repair and are there any obvious weak points?
Identifying and rectifying problems such as loose paving, missing render and cracks makes the feature safer and improves the appearance. Although damage like this may not cause immediate danger it could potentially cause an injury should the feature need general maintenance or if the feature is used outside of the intended purpose such as being climbed on.
Where does excess water drain?
All features should have adequate provision for excess water to drain away. As I mentioned earlier, excessive water ages a feature. If water cannot escape it can well up on the pavement or patio area creating a slip risk. These puddles once dry can emit unpleasant smells.
Are there any chemicals used near or around the water feature?
Chemicals and pesticides used near or around a pond can cause a natural water features’ mini eco systems to crash which will result in the pool needing to be emptied. You will need to replace all the plants. This will seriously affect the health of any fish in the feature.
Are there any visible signs of splashing?
When water hits a hard surface it causes a splashing effect that can exit the feature as far as the water has fallen. This can cause wet areas to appear on the ground that pose a danger not only because it is wet but also because this water will promote algae growth where it falls. Algae on a floor can very slippery so I would treat this fairly seriously.
Remember to check this on a windy day as this can exacerbate the problem.
Are there any visible cables or junction boxes?
If so this will need to be addressed as rubber cable can easily be pierced or chewed by animals resulting in potential electric shock. Junction boxes accessible to the public are subject to careless and inquisitive hands and although they are weather proof they are not full proof. Protection from water and sunlight will lengthen the junction’s life and protect the public from un-necessary shock.
Is the equipment visible to the public?
Basically the less the public can see, the less the likelihood of an accident occurring. Concealing equipment can be accomplished by building a lockable cupboard or a private area to house electrics and equipment plant. Pumps should be disguised or boxed in; this will make maintaining the feature slightly harder but a lot safer. This will also help to protect the feature against vandalism and theft which can increase the possibility of an accident.
Are there any loose objects or components of the feature?
Tall standing stones, statues, feature gravel and rocks all present a danger. They can be thrown or fall and hit people causing injury. They also create uneven and movable surfaces that can cause a person to fall and injure themselves. If you can avoid this without compromising the features look you should do so.
Once you have done your own risk assessment and executed the changes you will need to ensure that the feature is kept in tip top condition.
You cannot make all the changes and think your responsibility stops there. Water features can quickly deteriorate if they are not maintained.
Water feature health and safety is an ongoing job. This may not cost as much as you might think and will save money in the long term.
Regular PAT testing should be carried out on a 6month timetable if possible and it would also make sense to consult an electrician when doing the risk assessment.
When approaching potential maintenance companies always check they have their own health and safety procedures in place.
Questions to ask.
Is there any equipment that could be changed for a safer alternative?
What water treatments should be used? You will also need the accompanying data sheets.
What kind of maintenance is needed?
What space is needed to conduct maintenance?
What should be provided by you?
Does maintenance need to be carried out monthly/ weekly/ daily?
Is there any work that can be carried out by staff?
People to Consult
Grounds maintenance workers
Water feature, pond specialist
Things to Check
Old invoices and bills relating to the feature
This is caused by water spray and lights heating the pool. This is usually a problem for indoor water features but it is not impossible for this to happen outdoors.
For more info visit HSE http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/index.htm
This disease is carried by rats with symptoms much like flu, but much worse.
Faecal build up from ducks, fish and in rare cases humans. It can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
This could be caused accidentally or on intentionally. If you’re worried that your pool could be contaminated you should seek professional advice immediately.
SAFTEY RISKSFall and trip hazards
Identify these where necessary
Identify all electrical equipment and potential weak spots
This is more common in homes but not to be ignored.
Risks to the feature
Lack of maintenance
Wear and tear (age)
By Neil Murkitt