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Frequently asked questions

Leisure regulation

Which authority regulates leisure activities? Is it HSE or the local authority?

Under the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998, the local authority is generally the enforcing authority for leisure activities. However, where the local authority owns, occupies or controls activities or equipment – such as local authority swimming pools or leisure centres – the enforcing authority is HSE. Leisure facilities in educational establishments and at Ministry of Defence premises are also regulated by HSE.

Swimming pools

Does HSE’s Managing health and safety in swimming pools guidance apply to paddling pools?

Yes, but the relevance of the guidance depends on individual circumstances. For example, the guidance will be relevant to any paddling pool which forms part of a larger swimming facility (and is therefore included in the pool safety operating procedure for the entire complex).

Where a paddling pool is free standing (eg in a park), the general guidance will be less relevant. However, you should still read the following sections carefully:

  • General management of health and safety
  • The practicalities of managing health and safety

You should also read the specific advice in paragraph 264 relating to paddling pools.

How does HSE’s Managing health and safety in swimming pools guidance apply to non-standard swimming facilities?

The guidance is aimed primarily at swimming pools but also covers segregated areas of rivers, lakes, the sea, and other non-standard facilities where swimming is encouraged.

The relevance of the guidance depends on the particular circumstances at each non-standard swimming facility. While much of the guidance may not be relevant, the following sections should be read carefully:

  • General management of health and safety
  • The practicalities of managing health and safety

Please note, this guidance does not apply to areas where swimming is not encouraged, which are not maintained as swimming facilities. If people choose to swim in places like ponds or lakes then it is normally reasonable to expect them to take responsibility for their own safety.

How many lifeguards are required at each pool? Why does my local pool have no lifeguard supervision?

Given the wide range of pool facilities and the ways pools are used, it is not possible to make specific recommendations for lifeguard numbers. Pool operators need to consider how many lifeguards are required or whether constant poolside supervision is required. This is done through a risk assessment, and aided by the guidelines set down in HSE’s Managing health and safety in swimming pools.

A risk assessment may find that constant supervision is not required. In these circumstances, a member of staff will need to be ‘on call’ and able to respond immediately to emergencies whenever the pool is in use. It is essential that these staff are trained in pool rescue, CPR techniques and first aid.

Do HSE approve swimming pool lifeguard training courses?

No, HSE do not approve any lifeguard training courses.

The requirement for lifeguards at swimming pools will be determined by a risk assessment. Health and safety law does not prescribe any particular training course or qualifications for lifeguards but they must be competent to carry out their duties.  This means they must have the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to do the job properly.

Possession of a current qualification issued by an appropriate national body, is a recognised way of demonstrating an appropriate level of competence. If pool operators can find an alternative and equally effective means to ensure the competence of their lifeguards then they are free to do so.

Appendix 7 of HSG179 – Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools, provides addresses of relevant organisations, including addresses of organisations providing lifeguard training. This list is not exhaustive and inclusion in this list does not confer any endorsement by HSE. HSG179 is currently being revised in consultation with swimming pool industry stakeholders. HSE do not intend to include the detail of Appendix 7 in the revised draft.

What restrictions are there on the number of young children a single adult can take swimming?

The law imposes no specific restrictions. However, as part of their risk assessment, pool operators need to consider the number of young children (under the age of 8) who can safely be allowed into the pool during unprogrammed sessions, when under the supervision of one adult.

When making this decision, pool operators need to look at factors such as the physical attributes of the pool tank (eg size, gradient of depth), the pool environment (eg access routes), staffing levels and, where possible, the swimming capabilities of the children.

Are swimming pool disinfection chemicals harmful to pool users?

Disinfection of swimming pools is essential for ensuring that bathers are not exposed to risks from harmful micro-organisms. In properly managed swimming pools, the risk of bathers or employees being exposed to harmful levels of these chemicals or their by-products will be low.

The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG) produce detailed guidance on swimming pool water quality and treatment. This is considered by regulators (HSE and local authorities) as the standard to be achieved in an effectively managed swimming pool.

What legislation covers the use of chemicals in swimming pools?

Chemicals used in swimming pools come under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH). As a pool operator, you must carry out a COSHH assessment to protect your workers and visitors against health risks from any hazardous substances used in the course of your work.

After assessing the risks, you should decide what precautions are necessary to prevent or control exposure. You will need to record and monitor these control measures to ensure they are used and maintained. You must also ensure that your employees are properly informed, trained and supervised. 

For further information, see:

How can I minimise the risks at swimming pool sump outlets?

In pools with only one sump outlet, there may be the risk of a pool user  covering the outlet with part of their body and being held by the suction effect of the pump. In such cases, pool operators should make suitable safety modifications to their swimming pools.

A number of alternative improvements are possible, such as:

  • the installation of a second outlet sump, located a sufficient distance away so that any lone swimmer could not cover both outlets
  • provision of a pressure-operated interlock switch on the pump, which will isolate the pump if a significant change in suction pressure is detected
  • provision of a second outlet line from a spillway or drain, which is permanently open to the suction line

In all pools, grille covers should be securely fixed across the sump outlet.

Sports Clubs

What is a risk assessment?

Risk assessment is simply a careful examination of what could cause harm to people, so that you can decide whether you are doing enough to prevent that harm.

 A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your club. The law does not expect you to remove all risks, but to protect people by putting in place measures to control those risks. You are probably already taking steps to protect your employees and others who may be affected by your club activities, but your risk assessment will tell you whether you should be doing more.

Who needs to do a risk assessment?

You only need to do a risk assessment if you are an employer or a self-employed person. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down but it is a good idea to keep a record. For further guidance, see health and safety made simple.

Do you need to complete a risk assessment of a hired facility?

If you are hiring a facility to play sport and/or hold an event, then as users you may have a duty to manage risks, so far as reasonably practicable, arising from your own activities. The extent of your duty will depend on the degree of control you have over of the premises and any substances and plant (sports equipment) provided for use there.

Owners and/or those responsible for managing a hired facility will also have a duty to make sure the facility provides a healthy and safe place for people to use. We have developed a simple checklist, which summarises the areas you may need to consider if your organisation owns or has responsibilities for managing premises like a changing room or clubhouse.

There is no need to duplicate work and/or create unnecessary paperwork. As a user, all you need to do is familiarise yourself with the owner/manager’s facility checklist and, if necessary, supplement it with your own assessment of any significant risks.

What does reasonably practicable mean?

Generally, you need to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect people from harm

This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk.

Do coaches need to complete a risk assessment before every session?

You only need to do a risk assessment if you are an employer or a self-employed person. However, this shouldn’t be necessary before every session unless something significant has changed which could lead to a new hazard, in which case it would make sense to stop and review what you are doing.

When does a voluntary organisation become an employer?

A voluntary organisation will be an employer if it has at least one employee. An employee means an individual who works under a contract of employment or apprenticeship, whether express or implied and, if express, whether oral or in writing.

The courts have shown a willingness to accept that a person could be considered an employee even if they pay their own tax and national insurance. If they are at work and under the day-to-day control of an employer with regard to what to do and where to do it, then that may be enough.

For the purposes of health and safety law, volunteers cannot be regarded as employees because there is no 'mutuality of obligation’, which is necessary to form part of the required 'master-servant' relationship. For an explanation of specific categories of workers.

Volunteer staff will not have duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, other than a duty not to misuse or interfere with items provided by an employer for health and safety reasons. Note that a duty of care under the common (civil) law may apply.

Who needs a Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) check (previously known as a CRB check)?

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are not a requirement under workplace health and safety law. For details about the relevant legislation and who needs them, contact the Disclosure and Barring Service. In Scotland, this service is dealt with by Disclosure Scotland.

Should we follow guidance from the relevant Sports National Governing Bodies (NGB)?

There are many NGBs for sports and other activities such as rugby, football, swimming, mountaineering, caving and canoeing.

It is not compulsory to follow NGB health and safety guidance and you are free to take other action. However, competitors/players taking part in competitions and/or training are generally subject to the rules set down by NGBs. These rules will include topics like supervision (coaching staff to player ratios) and training, plus ‘in play’ emergency procedures and medical provision. Some of these rules and procedures may go beyond the requirements of workplace health and safety legislation.

Most sporting bodies and networks are member of the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA). Their contact details can be found by going to the SRA website.

What role do local authorities play in health and safety?

Both HSE and Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its subsidiary regulations. Together we ensure that employers / self-employed and those in control of premises like a clubhouse and changing rooms manage the risks to their staff and those affected by club activities. For the most part, local authorities will be responsible for enforcing the law in respect of club activities.

As land and property owners, local authorities will also be employers in their own right with legal responsibilities. Where this is the case HSE is responsible for enforcing the law.

The phrase ‘health and safety’ is commonly used to refer to a number of topics that aren’t covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its regulations. Local authorities are responsible for many of these broader public health, safety and environmental topics eg food safety/hygiene, pollution/recycling and entertainment and sports grounds licensing.

What organisations need to hold an AALA license?

The aim of adventure activities licensing is to provide assurances to the public about the safety of those providers who offer licensable activities to young people.

There are four categories of activities that are covered by licensing – caving, climbing, trekking and water sports. Generally, members clubs do not require a licence, but if they have any doubt they can contact the licensing service for advice.

Do we need insurance to cover injuries to participants?

Depending on the risks involved, a club may require public liability insurance. If the club is an employer, it will require employers’ liability insurance.

What licenses does a club need?

Some clubs may require licenses from local authorities for matters that are not covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its regulations. You can get advice on licensing from your local council for England and Wales and for Scotland.

Do we need a license for an event?

Licensing of an event is not covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and its regulations.

 If you are organising a temporary event for 500 people or more and want to serve or sell alcohol, provide late-night refreshment, or put on regulated entertainment, you may need to complete a temporary event notice. For further guidance on licensing an event, speak to your local council. Additional guidance is also available for England and Wales and in Scotland.

Are the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) requirements relevant for voluntary organisations and/or work premises?

COSHH will be relevant to voluntary organisations that:

  • are employers (who have duties under COSHH -  in addition to those towards employees – towards people who are affected by the work done by the employer); 

or

  • who are not employers but who use substances or products in non-domestic premises that are hazardous to health eg cleaning products. For further guidance on what to do, see the cleaning sections of HSE website.

How is public safety regulated at sports grounds?

Public safety at a sports ground is primarily covered by the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987. The local authority administer this primary legislation and any associated safety certification. More information can be obtained by contacting the relevant local authority for the ground in question.

Updated 2016-01-07