Safe water entry for competitions
Most schools hold their swimming carnivals at their local pool. Although this environment may appear to be a relatively controlled area that seems safe, there are still potential dangers, including risks associated with diving.
Shallow water diving can lead to a range of injuries including head injuries (broken teeth, scalp injuries and facial fractures) through to more serious spinal cord injuries (Quadriplegia- loss of function below the neck, Paraplegia- loss of function below the chest).
This information provides supervising teachers and students with the knowledge and understanding they need to ensure that diving related incidents and accidents are prevented at swimming carnivals. There is a particular focus on how students can implement shallow water dives in the carnival environment.
How does a diving injury occur?
Supervising teachers at a swimming carnival, must understand how a diving injury may occur. Understanding the cause, may assist in identifying when potential problems are going to arise, in turn, resulting in measures being taken to avoid incidents or accidents where foreseeable.
A diving injury occurs when a swimmer performs a head-first entry that is too deep for the water conditions with little or no protection for the head and neck. The swimmer’s head comes to a sudden stop, but the body continues moving. This can cause the vertebrae in the neck to dislocate or fracture, which can also damage the fragile spinal cord.
Other factors that could lead to injuries should be considered. These include:
- peer pressure
- being careless around and in the water
- failure to listen to instruction
- excitement – swimming carnivals are not everyday activities
- novice swimmer
- lack of education and understanding of the dangers at a pool.
Swimming carnival organisation
There are a number of factors to consider when determining whether to permit diving at a swimming carnival.
Even if dives are permitted, it is important to understand (and communicate with students, event officials, and parents/carers) that “in-water” starts are a genuine option for carnivals. In-water starts significantly reduce the probability of a diving or spinal related injury particularly if the water is less than 1.7m deep.
If a student is not confident on blocks, then they should dive from the pool edge, beside the blocks; this is a valid and safer entry option. Students not confident on the edge of the pool or attempting to get on to the blocks, should perform an in-water start to reduce the risk of injury.
It’s important to manage the entry of all swimmers into the water prior to their race, including in backstroke events.
Risk management – mitigation
Any or all of the following ways to manage diving risks could reduce the likelihood and/or consequence of injury:
Ensure students have viewed the diving induction videos below.
- Pre-train students in correct diving techniques.
- Ban diving in the shallow end but allow for deep end diving for confident and competent students.
- Insist that any nervous or inexperienced divers start from the pool edge or in the water.
- Ban the use of diving blocks.
- Ban all diving to remove all risk.
Diving depth matrix
To complete the risk assessment, consider water depth, and starting block height to determine the safety, or risk level, in diving.
Water depth – at any end of the pool where dive entry may be considered (this must include both ends when relays are being conducted).
Height above water – measure the height from water level to concourse and/or starting block.
In many cases dive entry can be performed from starting blocks or platforms. The additional height means a student will travel faster and their entry will be potentially deeper. This can increase the risk of injury.
The water depth and height of the platform must be used to determine whether diving is possible.
Starting blocks (that are assessed as meeting the diving depth matrix) should only be available for use by those students deemed as competent and confident at executing a safe forward dive entry.
Starting blocks should be inspected prior to each use, including between races, to ensure that they are correctly fitted, sturdy and free of any potential hazards. This is especially important for starting blocks with kickers, to ensure the kicker remains locked in.
The following factors need to be considered when determining the appropriate entry method for each competitor in a swimming carnival and incorporated into risk assessment:
- assessed skill level of student
- depth and gradient of pool
- height of concourse and platform
- height of starting blocks
- facility/venue input
- controls that can be used to minimise or remove risks.
Students and teachers should view the following video prior to school swimming carnivals. Watching the videos will assist in identifying potential issues, but also provide guidance for and build confidence to ensure that they dive effectively and safely.
A register of students who have watched these videos should be maintained.
There are several legal ways that competitors can choose to start a swimming race. This 9 minute video details the various competitive dive start options, including a push start, dive from the edge of the pool, simple dive from standard starting blocks, advanced dive from standard starting blocks, advanced track start and diving from a block which has a kicker.
A range of shorter video resources are also available that highlight specific competitive dive starts. You can watch them by clicking on the video links below: