Swimming, gym and outdoor safety

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Key facts

  • There are no specific regulations on swimming pool or gym safety, but you must manage these activities so they comply with health and safety legislation.
  • Anyone who sells adventure activities intended for young people under 18 must be inspected and licensed under the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004

Swimming and gym safety

Drownings in swimming pools in the UK are rare. However, this does not mean that you should not pay particular attention to the safety of guests and staff around pool areas.

General legislation that applies

Currently, there is no specific legislation on swimming pool or gym safety. These are covered by general health and safety regulations. Your main responsibility as a pool or gym operator, in relation to the safety of your guests or clients, is to be found in the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. See the sections on the Health and Safety at Work Act and Safety management section for more information.

Safety in swimming pools is a complex subject and should be studied closely by those who manage them. A thorough risk assessment should be carried out, and, amongst other things, this will determine whether constant supervision is needed. This risk assessment should include topics such as:

  • slipping and tripping
  • signage
  • water depth and any changes of level
  • water clarity
  • the availability of alcohol or likelihood of swimming after drinking
  • child protection issues
  • unsupervised children
  • hazards in changing areas
  • life-saving equipment
  • rescue and emergency arrangements. 

Guidance on swimming pools

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published a very useful guide, Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools, which provides detailed guidance on the risks associated with swimming pool operation and the precautions which may be taken to help achieve a safer environment. It also covers supervision and signage.

The guide draws on legislation from the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Workplace Health and Safety Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Outdoor activity safety measures

Anyone who sells adventure activities intended for young people under 18 must be inspected and licensed under the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004.

Do I need an inspection and licence?

Yes: if you provide, in return for payment, any of the activities listed below to young people under 18 unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.

Activities covered by the inspection and licensing scheme

The scheme covers 26 main activities under the following four specified adventure activity groups:

  • caving: underground exploration in natural caves and mines including pot-holing, cave diving and mine exploration
  • climbing: climbing, traversing, abseiling and scrambling activities, except on purpose-designed climbing walls or abseiling towers
  • trekking: walking, running, pony trekking, mountain biking, off-piste skiing, and related activities when done in moor or mountain country which is remote (i.e. over 30 minutes' travelling time from the nearest road or refuge)
  • water sports: canoeing, rafting, sailing and related activities when done on the sea, tidal waters or inland waters which are more than 100m across or are turbulent.

The scheme does not cover:

  • activities that are offered to young people who are accompanied by their parents or guardians
  • activities offered by voluntary associations to their members or by schools to their pupils.

Note: in 2018, the HSE undertook a review and public consultation regarding the delivery and scope of AALA to ensure that the provision of licensing of adventure activities is delivered in a sensible, proportionate and cost-effective manner, and encourages the participation by young people in adventure activities. At time of print, the outcome of the review has not been published. 

The activity provider's duty under the regulations

The primary duty of the activity provider is to ensure the safety of young people using activity facilities. To be able to comply with this duty, providers must have in place a safety management system that involves a systematic approach to recognising risks and making sure something is done to control them.

Important factors include:

  • the risk assessment process
  • the number of competent instructors
  • the suitability and maintenance of equipment
  • emergency procedures.

The inspection/licensing process

The HSE currently has responsibility for the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) and has enforcement responsibility for the 2004 regulations.

All the inspections and most of the administration work that the AALA carried out have been taken over by Tourism Quality Services Ltd (TQS) under contract. TQS is operating under the name Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALS).

Applications, inspections and licensing are handled by TQS. Inspections are rigorous. Licences will only be granted if the licensing authority is satisfied that the applicant meets management safety requirements.