Winter outdoor swimming locations

Instructions for designers, constructors and maintenance organisations

1. The hole in the ice

2. Paths, jetties and steps

3. Safety equipment

4. Changing rooms, shower rooms and saunas

5. Electrical safety

6. Signposting and instructions

7. Maintenance and inspections

 

The simplest type of winter open water swimming location contains a warm changing room, a hole in the ice and steps leading into the hole. Taking the following safety issues into consideration will improve the safety of ice swimming locations.

  

The organisation providing winter outdoor swimming services (such as an association, enterprise, municipality, church congregation) is responsible for the safety of the service (Consumer Safety Act, 920/2011) and for the provision of sufficient information about the service for service users (decree on information to be supplied in respect of consumer goods and consumer services, 613/2004).

  

Operators must take the different user groups and the number of users into consideration in structures and instructions. Operators are advised to ensure that they have the necessary insurance cover.

 

If a winter outdoor swimming location is part of a swimming pool or spa (outdoor pool used for winter swimming, etc.), its safety arrangements must comply with the Finnish Consumer Agency’s guidelines for the promotion of the safety of swimming pools and spas.

 

Instructions for designers, constructors and maintenance organisations

 

These instructions have been drawn up in cooperation with the Finnish Association for Swimming Instruction and Life Saving (Suomen Latu), the Finnish Central Association for Recreational Sports and Outdoor Activities and the Ministry of Education. 

 

1. The hole in the ice

  • The hole in the ice must be large enough. If the hole is intended for more than just dipping into, the suitable minimum size is 3x3 metres.
  • The recommended depth of water at the steps is around 1.5 m. There must be a sign on the jetty or shore displaying the water depth in the swimming hole.
  • If the hole is equipped with a device keeping the hole open, it must be placed in such a manner that swimmers will not be drawn to it and that the current created by the device will not pull swimmers under the ice or make it difficult for swimmers to approach the steps.
  • It is not recommended to place an ice swimming hole in a site with flowing water. If a swimming hole is placed in a site with flowing water, the risk caused by the flow and the related safety aspects concerning the swimming hole must be taken into consideration. Preventing swimmers from being trapped beneath the ice can be enabled using various types of underwater protective barrier. For instance, a safety net with a vertical measurement of around one metre can be installed underwater along the edge of the hole, making sure to use a net in which swimmers cannot get stuck.
  • The ice swimming hole must be sealed off by fencing, barriers or safety bunting extensively enough and at a long enough distance from the edges of the swimming hole. The site must also be signposted appropriately to indicate it is a winter swimming location (“Avanto” or “Talviuintipaikka”). Safety bunting must be equipped with reflectors so that snowmobile riders and others will spot them in the dark.
  • Attention should be paid in conjunction with ice swimming hole area servicing and maintenance to marking off the hole and, if necessary, moving the markings once the ice melts further to prevent anyone accidentally falling in.
  • Paths, the jetty and the area by the hole must have adequate lighting.
  • Swimming locations must be inspected by a diver every year before the beginning of the winter outdoor swimming period.
  • Ice swimming holes must not be placed next to each other as this may inspire someone to dive underneath the ice from one hole to another.

 

2. Paths, jetties and steps

  • Ice swimming holes must be accessible via a clear path or paths that are cleared of snow, gritted or salted to reduce slippage. Heat mats placed on the jetty and paths help prevent slippage and iciness.
  • Jetties must be sturdy and wide enough for two people to pass each other on them (for more information about jetty structures see, e.g. the RT Building Information File RT-97-10107). Jetties should have handrails on both sides.
  • The condition of jetties must be inspected at least twice a year: in spring and autumn.
  • Jetties must be kept in good condition, and any broken or decayed parts must be repaired immediately.
  • Steps leading into water should be long enough to reach the bottom and extend high enough to make it easy to step out of water. Steps should have handrails on both sides. It is recommended that the handrails are wooden or equipped with heating to make it easier to step out of water even if bare-handed. Handrails can also be covered with rope or some other suitable material.
  • Footsteps must be horizontal and wide enough to provide a firm foothold when stepping into water.
  • The recommended angle of the step incline is such that it enables swimmers to step down facing forward while holding onto the handrail (step incline angle 40 to 60 degrees).   Vertical stepladders are not recommended.
  • Safety can be increased by installing two steps, with one used for stepping into water and the other to step out of water.
  • There must be a knotted rope attached to the steps or the jetty that floats and reaches far enough across the water so enable swimmers to access the steps while holding onto the rope, if necessary.

 

3. Safety equipment

  • There must be a lifebuoy and heaving line easily accessible by the steps leading into water. It is recommended that larger winter outdoor swimming locations are equipped with a lifeboat.
  • The first aid cabinet must be in a visible place. The minimum first aid cabinet contents include disinfectant, gauze, sticking plasters, ice packs, a hypothermia bag and a CPR mask.
  • The contents of the first aid cabinet and the usability of the equipment must be checked at regular intervals.

 

4. Changing rooms, shower rooms and saunas

  • It is a good idea to have underfloor heating in the changing rooms. Changing rooms must be cleaned frequently enough. Saunas, shower rooms and changing rooms should be disinfected once a week.
  • There must be a protective railing around sauna stoves.

 

5. Electrical safety

  • The lighting and electrical design of winter outdoor swimming locations needs to be carried out by an expert. It is a good idea to install underwater lighting to improve visibility in the dark.
  • All electrical appliances that can be touched by swimmers while in the water or after a swim must operate on extra-low voltage (rated voltage 12 V AC or 30 V DC).
  • The ingress protection rating of the appliances must also be appropriate to the conditions in which they are installed, such as outdoors, immersed in water, etc.
  • Equipment used to stop the hole from freezing over can be mains-connected. Such equipment must be protected with a minimum of 30 mA residual-current device and placed in a location where it cannot be touched by swimmers while in the water or going in or coming out of the water. Contact with the device can be prevented through measures such as placing the device outside the swimming area and protecting the pump with a structure such as a grid made of an insulating material (as recommended by the electrical industry recommendations group).

 

6. Signposting and instructions

  • A safety information board must be placed outdoors in winter outdoor swimming locations, containing at least the following information concerning the site:
    • street or other address and town/city/municipality;
    • the common emergency call number 112 and instructions on how to call for help or how to find the nearest telephone;
    • the coordinates of the site provided next to the instructions on how to call for help to make it easier for rescue staff to find the site (the coordinates are available for printing out at the coordinates service on the ERC Administration site);
    • the contact details of those responsible for maintenance.
  • Instructions concerning winter outdoor swimming locations and their safety must be placed outdoors on the jetty or on the changing room wall in a place where they are accessible by everybody. Safety instructions can include the following:
    • instructions for swimmers;
    • rules and regulations / safety instructions (incl. reporting on defects and vandalism);
    • map of the area;
    • water depth data;
    • data on flow of water in the ice swimming hole, if applicable;
    • water quality measurement record;
    • first aid and CPR instructions.
  • Service users’ responsibility and the fact you should never swim alone in a hole in the ice should also be emphasised in the instructions.

 

7. Maintenance and inspections

  • Those maintaining winter outdoor swimming locations are responsible for the maintenance and inspections of the buildings, devices, paths and equipment in the area as well as the cleaning and safety of the winter outdoor swimming location and swimming area. The inspections must be recorded in a log.
  • There must be a designated maintenance person responsible for each winter outdoor swimming location.
  • The condition of the safety equipment (lifebuoy, heaving line), CPR instructions and signs and information boards must be inspected once a week.
  • It is a good idea to inspect the condition of lighting and other electrical appliances every day. Any defects must be repaired immediately.

 

Instructions concerning winter outdoor swimming locations and their construction can also be found in Finnish in a guide published by the Ministry of Education (Liikuntapaikkajulkaisu nro 90 ”Uimarantaopas”).

 

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