Summer’s fun in the sun inevitably includes some cooling down in pools and at area waterparks. Over 80 million people visit waterparks each year, and over 1000 waterparks nationally are required to comply with state and federal regulations for safety. Additionally, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has set nationwide industry standards for waterpark design, water quality, operations and staffing, and requirements training.
Even so, unfortunate accidents like the waterborne intestinal disease outbreak at a Duluth area waterpark last year have been reported at waterparks all over the country. While some involve contaminated water, others involve safety issues like small children getting trapped in water slide tubes, injuries such as scrape, scratches or puncture wounds sustained from slides and other equipment, and the increased risk of drowning or falling.
While most people who enjoy the waterpark’s facilities will have a fun and safe experience, it’s important to note that injuries and illness can occur at the waterpark, turning your summer fun into a bummer in the sun.
The number one thing to remember here is that a body in motion always has a potential for injury. The safety guidelines below can help you to minimize your risk but, as always, when playing in and around water, risk intrinsically exists.
Rider Accurate Height and Weight
Many of the issues encountered by riders who have found themselves stuck in waterslide tubing could have been avoided if an accurate idea of the rider’s height and weight had been established before entering the slide. Many of the slide’s turns and slopes can only be managed if a rider has enough height or weight to keep the momentum going at the right pace. The height and weight requirements are there for a reason – not only for your safety, but for the safety of other riders who may sustain injury if they encounter someone stuck in an area of tubing during their slide. Since many injuries occur from rider positional issues, get in the correct position before you start down a water slide – face up and feet first.
As a parent, attending a waterpark with your child is not all fun and games. Though the facility should have staff on hand to monitor safety and reduce risk, you are your child’s best safety advocate. Especially if you’re bringing a young child (anyone under 48 inches), one who cannot swim, or any child that is not a strong swimmer or who may be physically uncoordinated, make sure he or she is wearing a coast guard approved life vest. Many parks offer vests you can use. Supervise all children in attendance with you, at all times, no matter the water’s depth. Making sure you are within reach to help them recover during an incident is imperative, as is your ability to note the positions of lifeguards on hand, in case of emergency. All children should be instructed on correct positioning when riding the slide. Young children should be accompanied by a parent down the slide, with the parent riding just ahead of the child and then waiting to retrieve him or her at the bottom. The sheer size and volume of people at a waterpark make it important to use the buddy system – set an agreed upon meeting place, just in case you get separated. Never let your child wander off alone, no matter his or her age.
Water in the parks gets recycled with hundreds of children playing in it (at the height of the season) every day. This recycled water can often harbor bacteria that can make your child ill. Children with weakened immune systems should avoid waterparks altogether due to a common parasite called Cryptosporidium, which causes severe diarrhea. Infections of the eyes, skin, respiratory tract, ears and mouth can occur, despite the use of chlorine to disinfect the water. Be sure to instruct your children to avoid getting water in their mouths and never to swallow any. To decrease risk for everyone, shower before you head to the park, change diapers in designated areas – away from the pool – dressing infants in waterproof, leak-proof diapers, and take older children to the bathroom frequently. Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that no one with diarrhea swim at a water park. All attendees should shower upon arriving home.
Proper Sun Care
If you’re at an outdoor waterslide or park, be sure to apply a high-SPF, waterproof (and tear free) sunscreen to your children’s exposed areas. Reapply liberally and often. Outfit your children with other protective gear such as hats, sunglasses and light loose shirts and cover-ups to protect them from the sun, when not in the water. Water socks/shoes with non-slip soles are highly recommended in the water park. Children can get heat exhaustion easily, as they have a tendency to get excited and overwork themselves in the heat of the sun. Monitor their sun exposure carefully, offering plenty of water throughout the day, making sure that they take appropriate rest periods and rehydrate even if they are resistant. Heat stroke can come on suddenly, so watch for dizziness, disorientation and nausea.
Follow Rules and Instructions
Signage, rules and instructions at a waterpark exist for your protection. Instruct all riders to listen carefully to all instructions and abide by all waterpark rules. This will greatly reduce the chances of an accident occurring. Keep all younger and shorter children within their designated areas. Before riding or allowing your child to ride, read any signs posted to check for height, age and swimming ability requirements, as well as water depth. Do not allow any running through the park – wet surfaces and running or horseplay do not mix. Park rules apply to everyone, so adults should be certain to read and apply all signage and advice as well. Pregnant women or those with back, neck and heart conditions may not be allowed to ride the slides, and instead are advised to use sedentary areas like the wave pools.
By taking the time to implement the things on this list, you can help ensure your family’s safety at waterparks and decrease risk while increasing enjoyment for everyone.