At a glance:

- Swim teaching in winter can be uncomfortable and can make you more susceptible to illness.

- If you plan well you can minimise the risks of getting sick this winter.

- See the 10 tips and tricks put together to help you prepare for the winter.

Does finishing a shift in winter ever feel like this?

CHILLS run down the back of your neck as you question whether or not you have just been dumped into the Arctic Ocean. You quickly realise that is not the case. It’s just another parent standing in the path of the sliding door preventing it from closing and letting in the merciless winds of a bitter winter night. You curse that parent, willing them to move out of the way – but as you look back to your smiling kiddies you quickly forget about the cold and remember why

it is you do what you do.

This is a story will strike a chord with many of us in the swimming industry particularly those of us down south who experience some of the coldest winter days in Australia.

There is no substitute for practice to ensure that Aussie kids remain safer around our pools and waterways. Year round swimming is incredibly important for maintain the swimming literacy of children and ensuring they are prepared for the summer to come. However, swim teaching through winter does come with some additional requirements in ensuring we stay safe and healthy whilst at work. Over the years many teachers have developed different techniques and approaches to ensuring they stay happy and healthy throughout the winter. In this article we will address some of the biggest risks to the health of swim teachers and share some of the tips and tricks accumulated by our members over many years of experience.

So when we talk about the health risks of swimming and teaching in the water throughout winter what do we mean exactly? When working in a swimming pool, the cold isn’t just uncomfortable; it can also provide an environment that is conducive to catching a cold or the flu or some cold/flu-like illness. Whilst it is possible to fall sick with a cold or flu at any time in the year, studies have suggested it is possible that rhinoviruses (which are the common causes of the “common cold”) are more able to replicate in lower temperatures. Further, the effect of the cold on the immune system has also been linked to a decrease in the body’s ability to “fight off infections”. The cold doesn’t necessarily cause the “common cold” but it can be said to create an environment where it is more likely to occur.

Now layer this with an enclosed environment, a pool for viruses to float around in and a high bather-load from the hundreds of coming from school, and a myriad of other activities and hobbies. Seems like a recipe for disaster!

It isn’t all doom and gloom however! There are many simple things we can all do as swim teachers and swim schools to ensure we minimise the risks of the spread of viruses throughout winter. We asked our members what they or their swim school did to help ensure that everyone stayed happy and healthy at work. After compiling these and more, here are ten things you and your swim school can do to help minimise the risk of getting sick whilst teaching this winter:

1. Water Quality –

It goes without saying that cleaner water means a lower likelihood of viruses. There are certain legal requirements for the maintenance of the water quality of public swimming pools (this includes “private swim schools”). These can be found in Part 7 of the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations (VIC) 2001. (Regulations are State based and may vary from State to State)

2. Water and Air Temp –

Apart from it being a more comfortable environment to work in, ensuring the water and air temperature in your centre is at a suitable level can help prevent the situations described above.

3. Providing employees with free flu vaccines –

Vaccination is a good preventative measure to decrease the likelihood of contracting the flu. By providing employees with the option to get a free vaccine, swim schools may eliminate two common barriers to people getting vaccinated: cost and convenience.

4. Don’t go to work if you are sick –

If you do get sick, stay away from work. This is important for your recovery but also to minimise the spread of viruses at work. If you are part-time or fulltime, use your sick leave, that is what it is for! If you are a casual, even though you are not ordinarily entitled to sick leave, maybe you and your co-workers can negotiate an option for some sick leave; given the type of work you are doing.

If you run a swim school, don’t give your teachers grief if they call in sick. We all know how important consistency in teaching is but if we step back and look at the big picture, we can all agree that fewer sick people is better for everyone.

5. Know when you should or should not come back to work –

Whilst you are recovering from an illness, make sure you take the time you need to recover and ensure you are no longer contagious. Guidelines vary depending on the type of illness and from State to State, always seek advice from a healthcare professional when deciding on internal policies and guidelines.

6. Don’t let kids who are sick swim –

As with sick staff, the best option to prevent the spread of viruses is to remove the source. This can sometimes be a difficult conversation to have with a parent who wants their child to swim. Does your swim school have a policy for this? Do you know what symptoms are warning signs to stay away? Do your parents know when they should keep their kids away? Do you offer free make-ups or refunds for illness?

Ask yourself these questions and work together to decide on a uniform policy for your swim school.

7. Keep things clean –

As well as keeping the pool water clean, it is important to keep the entire centre clean. There should be comprehensive and consistent policies around keeping the environment in the centre clean.

8. Heads-Shoulders-Knees-and-Toes: make sure you are dry –

Make sure after your shift you dry yourself completely and cover up afterwards. It might be easiest to run out to your car in thongs or bear feet and with wet hair! But if you take the time to put some warm shoes and socks on, and cover your noggin, you will be keeping all that body heat from escaping.

9. Have a hot shower –

Water is great at conducting heat so even in a warm pool it is possible that some body heat has been drawn away from your skin. Have a hot shower to get some warmth back into you straight away.

10. Have a hot drink after your shift –

A hot chocolate not only warms the body it warms the soul. This can be a good way to warm up and unwind, particularly after a tough shift.

There you have it! Teaching in winter does not need to be a difficult and uncomfortable experience. Work with your co-workers and management to create the best environment to keep everyone healthy over the winter. Remember that prevention is always better than cure when it comes to health and safety.

Which of these tips and tricks do you use? Do you have any others that were not mentioned? Comment below and share with your friends!

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