Principles of beach risk assessment: A UK perspective

TitlePrinciples of beach risk assessment: A UK perspective
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNelson, DC
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers02-05

The Beach has an almost magical attraction, a magnetic lure towards sun, sea and sand, creating a wide range of images and emotions from tranquillity and relaxation to sheer exhilaration. However, the beach and coastal zone present some of the most dynamic and dangerous environments on the planet which are often not perceived by those who visit. In fact, the variability and interaction of weather and tidal conditions can change the setting within minutes, turning a relatively safe and fun place to be into to a very dangerous and potentially life threatening environment. The beach also plays an important role in local and national economies, being a primary space which is capitalised on to create revenue through tourism development. This paper explores the framework surrounding the management of safety on beaches, who is responsible and the importance being placed on risk assessments.

In the UK, there is no statutory requirement for beaches to be lifeguarded. However, Local Authorities (LAs) and beach operators are legally responsible for risk assessing (RAs) their beaches to comply with the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations This means that if the RA indicates that lifeguards are required it is then up to the LA/beach operator to ensure this provision is made. There are a plethora of legal instruments that can apply to management of beaches, which is beyond the confines of this paper. It is though worth noting that if a LA/beach operator receives an income from a beach, for example through car park ticketing, the duty of care towards those visiting the beach is increased and rests upon the beach operator. In addition, increasing emphasis is being placed on beach RAs by the decision of the Federation for Environmental Education to introduce in the future a mandatory requirement for beaches applying for the prestigious Blue Flag to hold a RA.

The Royal Life Saving Society UK recognises that whilst the principles of risk assessment (in any environment) are simple they are not necessarily easy. Experience shows that beach operators, who may have many years operational experience on the beach, appreciate additional guidance when it comes to putting practical knowledge down on paper. The RLSS UK has responded to the challenge of beach RAs by developing a simple straightforward risk assessment matrix in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). This is, in effect, a checklist of all the hazard categories identified in the RLSS UK / Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (ROSPA) publication Safety On Beaches and listed in a format suitable for adaptation by individual operators. The RLSS UK's primary concern is water safety and supports national and supranational drivers towards ensuring beaches are risk assessed, believing that well planned and robust risk assessments will significantly improve public safety at the beach.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Recognise the dynamic nature of the beach and hazard interaction.
  2. Develop knowledge of the framework surrounding the management of beach safety.
  3. Understand the basic principles of beach risk assessments.
Digital Media: 


Media Folder: