Research Finds Pool Ban on Risky Dives Pointless in Curbing Kids’ Injuries

November 30, 2015

Head, neck, and face injuries that have increased in recent decades with the popularity of board diving among children do not necessarily mean stricter regulations are needed, such as disallowing somersault and backward facing dives, because divers generally self-regulate based on their skill levels and risk perceptions, according to new research that raises questions about the rarely studied issue.

Concerns about diving-related injuries rose in the United States after a study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy was published in Pediatrics journal in 2008. The study estimated that from 1990 through 2006 young people under the age of 19 were treated in emergency departments for 111,000 injuries caused by various diving-related accidents, with 10- to 14-year-olds most likely to be injured. However, 80 percent were from dive heights of one meter or less. Nevertheless, pools restrict certain types of demanding dives for fear of their riskiness, depriving experienced divers of a chance to practice and progress.

In their new study, “Board Diving Regulations in Public Swimming Pools and Risk of Injury,” Dr. Dave Williams and Louise Odin, of the School of Psychology and Sports Sciences, University of Hertfordshire, England, provide “a first and small step in an area popularly associated with risk, yet significantly under-researched.” Their study appeared in the online version of the international journal Risk Analysis, a publication of the multi-disciplinary Society for Risk Analysis.

“In a survey of public swimming pools in the United Kingdom, we found no link between the strictness of regulation and dive-related injury incidence in the previous 12 months,” according to Dr. Williams, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at his university. “The policy of permitting some dive forms, while banning others in public diving sessions, may be less effective than imagined because it may overlook people’s natural tendency to attempt only that which they feel reasonably capable of achieving based upon their past experience,” he said.

Based on the research, Dr. Williams finds that a policy of barring some dives “may mistake that which appears risk-laden, with genuine levels of risk, which are in fact relatively low in public swimming pools. It may also overlook the importance for the young of learning about risk in a managed setting.” The authors cite the health and other benefits kids gain from diving and swimming at public pools. For example, through pool activities, children improve their swimming skills, thereby reducing the potential for drowning. Diving also provides the young an opportunity to learn how “to face and deal with real risks in a supportive setting” and to acquire mastery over fearful situations, the authors write.

For their research, the authors surveyed 20 public pools about their diving rules and incidence of injuries over the previous year. Their goal was to see if any link could be found between the harshness of regulation and the amount of accidents occurring during public diving sessions. Results indicated that “It does not appear to matter how many dive forms are regulated or not during public sessions in terms of the injury incidence in the previous year. Permitting only a limited number of dive forms does not appear to be associated with fewer accidents.”

In a related second study, the authors compared perceptions about diving risks among 22 club divers and 22 non-divers and found a “significant difference in risk perception” and in “preference for regulation” based on diving experience. Experienced divers perceive less risk in a range of recreational activities, including diving, when compared with others, and also “prefer almost two more dive forms be allowed than is currently so in public pools when compared with novices.”

The authors recognize that their study is limited and that it “would be premature to suggest that individual swimming pools might revise regulations for public diving from this alone,” but the findings nevertheless “might give pause for thought.” Because divers appear to gauge the risks of certain dives based on their experience and to act accordingly, “It is therefore important that regulation is proportionate, and that pool managers do not inadvertently discourage engagement [in diving challenges] by applying arbitrary regulation whose effectiveness is open to question,” Dr. Williams said.

Source: Society for Risk Analysis (SRA)

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