IJ and KL were good friends. They had known each other since middle
school. Both boys were athletic and participated in high school
sports. IJ, who was 17, was a year older than KL. However, KL was
taller than his friend and tall for a high school freshmen. It was
a hot, July afternoon. IJ was going to go swimming in the backyard
pool of a close relative’s home and invited KL to come along. KL
obtained permission from his parents and then joined IJ.
The pool was equipped with a diving board. IJ and KL each took
a couple of dives off the springboard (low board). On KL’s third
dive, he took one or two steps on the board, bounced, and when he
became airborne, spread his arms and legs apart. Just before entering
the water, he tried to bring his hands in front of his face and
tuck his knees into his chest so as to make a big slash. He had
done this type of dive before, perhaps a year earlier, but at a
different, larger pool.
KL’s next recollection was that he was being pulled into the shallow
end. He had a cut on top of his head. He could not move his legs
or his arms.
In the United States, there are about 800 new cases of traumatic
spinal cord injury each year that occur while engaged in sports
activities (Scientific American, Sept. 1999). The leading cause
within this category is diving, with about 440 cases of traumatic
spinal cord injury each year. Some of these accidents occur in natural
bodies of water. Those that occur in swimming pools include dives
from the side of the pool into the shallow end. Whatever the number
of cases of traumatic spinal cord injury resulting from over diving
the deep end of the pool while using a springboard, it appears that
most victims are adolescent males and young men.
HF Issues: Ideally, the danger should be mitigated by providing
sufficient clearances to ensure that head contact with the pool
bottom will not likely cause traumatic spinal cord injury. However,
if residual risk remains after reasonable attempts have been made
to reduce both the likelihood and severity of injury of such accidents
through design and guarding (e.g., elimination of diving board where
clearances are inadequate), in my opinion, safety information should
be provided that alerts recreational divers to the danger and provides
direction how to avoid harm.
HF Investigation and Analysis: KL performed a dive with
which he was familiar. It was a popular dive. On the day of the
accident, he watched IJ perform the same dive. However, KL was probably
at greater risk than his friend of striking the sloping portion
of the pool bottom. First, he was several inches taller than IJ
and likely stronger. Second, he was not familiar with the shape
of the pool. Third, KL had learned the dive a year earlier at a
pool that was at least two feet deeper than the pool involved in
the accident. Lastly, in the year that had elapsed since learning
the dive, KL had grown several inches.
For such a youngster, a dive that, a year earlier, was safely executed
many times, now may prove dangerous.
For a given pool type, it should be possible to determine the entry
point associated with overdiving the deep end for the population
most at risk. This point could be demarcated by a line on the sides
and bottom of the pool.