Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts an annual study that focuses on tracking the progress of commercial pools in the United States. In the last decade, the reports have shown little progress in any reduction in violations.
In the latest report, it was found that 80% of the samples analyzed at aquatic facilities revealed at least one violation. Out of that number, 12% had such severe health and safety violations that they experienced an immediate closure of the facilities. Wading and kiddie pools accounted for the highest closure frequency.
The most common violations involved disinfection concentration inadequacies which could lead to a disease outbreak. Safety equipment violations were the second most widespread problem to occur on inspection reports.
The dismal results revealed by the frequent CDC reports show that mistakes occur frequently at commercial pool and spa facilities due to a variety of common causes. The mistakes are usually avoidable or easily fixed once an owner or operator understands each one.
In this article, we will examine pool mistakes that owners and operators of aquatic facilities should strive to avoid.
10 Commercial Pool Safety Risks
Let’s examine the 10 most common commercial pool and spa mistakes you don’t want to make at your facility. Familiarizing yourself with the missteps of others helps you effectively sidestep the issues. You can then run your natatorium in a proactive manner, so you don’t find yourself getting mired with avoidable problems.
Improperly Balancing Chemicals Which Leads to RWIs.
Failing to keep your aquatic facility clean by using the proper chemical balances can lead to outbreaks of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) such as Shigella, E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium (Crypto). RWIs occur as a result of fecal matter in the pool water. A person might have diarrhea or a child’s swim diaper could leak which can quickly contaminate the pool’s water.
Maintaining the proper level of chlorine will inactivate the RWIs. However, chlorine is not instantaneous. Crypto remains infectious for days even in chlorine due to the germ’s hard outer shell which acts as an armor against chlorine.
In the last 30 years, reports show that RWI frequency has risen substantially at commercial facilities.
The CDC suggests taking the following steps to avoid RWIs at your commercial pool facility:
Maintain the disinfectant levels at the following:
· pH 7.2 to 7.8
· Alkalinity 80 to 120 ppm
· Calcium hardness
· 200 to 400 ppm
· Total dissolved solids 2500 mg/liter
Insufficient pH control impacts the effectiveness of chlorine. Monitor your aquatic facility’s chlorine. Ensure recirculation and filtration system function and carry out regular checks.
Additional steps to prevent RWIs include:
· Carry out regular maintenance of the pool’s filtration and recirculation equipment.
· Provide brochures and hang posters at your aquatic facility to help build awareness of RWIs and let patrons know how they can help prevent the spread of disease.
· Manage your pool and spa’s water using VivoPoint Aquatic Management Software to stay current on all chemical levels. The software provides an integrated dosing calculation so you can effortlessly maintain the chemicals needed to ensure your water remains balanced to prevent RWIs.
Failure to Take All Steps to Prevent Drowning and Injuries
Drowning and injuries are the biggest danger at any commercial pool or spa facility, especially in health clubs that rarely utilize lifeguards.
The CDC reports that each year approximately 3,960 fatal drownings occur - averaging 11 drownings every day. About 8,080 additional nonfatal drownings also occur which average 22 nonfatal drownings each day.
Every year, more children die from drowning than any other cause of death besides birth defects. For each child that dies from drowning, an additional five sustain injuries that require emergency room treatment.
It is imperative that you take steps to safeguard your pool’s guests by carrying out the following:
Employ skilled lifeguards who act as an effective drowning defense. Lifeguards protect the safety of swimmers of all ages. They act as well-trained first responders who can handle the situation until advanced medical professionals reach the scene if a drowning or injury should occur. With water submersion, early intervention is critical to reduce the severity of injury. The vigilance of skilled lifeguards can effectively decrease the risk of drowning at commercial pool and spa facilities.
Post and maintain a set of rules for all patrons using your facilities. Rely on state code compliance to develop poolside rules.
Limit the use of swim equipment and pool toys which makes deep water easily accessible for non-swimmers and can lead to problems. All equipment should be put away when not in use for distinct programs. Prohibit outside tools and floats.
Keep rescue equipment within easy reach.
Fences, gates, barriers, and safety pool covers should be installed and diligently used. Self-closing, barriers, and self-latching gates can prevent the entry of unsupervised children to the poolside.
Improper maintenance of water clarity.
Maintaining water clarity makes swimmers in distress more recognizable to lifeguards, employees, and other patrons. In 2011, a drowning occurred at a Fall River, MA public pool. The drowned victim was at the bottom of the pool for over two days. Lifeguards and other swimmers could not see the body due to cloudy water.
· Always close the pool if the bottom is not visible.
· Regularly clean and drain the pool when needed.
· Do not let the water become excessively hot which can reduce water clarity.
· Utilize aquatic water automation to maintain water clarity.
Accidental chemical exposure.
Even the most experienced staff can make a mistake. Chemical exposure is a common occurrence at commercial pools and spas. Caution should always be taken when using strong chemicals like chlorine and bromine. Both are used to protect swimmers by preventing the spread of dangerous germs but can quickly become dangerous if improperly handled. Other chemicals are also used during the disinfection process, to halt corrosion, scale equipment, and prevent algae growth.
Despite being effective for their particular functions, the chemicals used at aquatic facilities pose a significant danger to staff if personal protective equipment is not used when handling them.
To prevent accidental chemical exposure, take the following steps:
· Follow state and local building and fire codes when storing pool chemicals.
· Maintain a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or less when storing pool chemicals.
· Always store each chemical separately to prevent possible mixing.
· Keep chemicals in the manufactured labeled containers.
· Train all staff to safely handle the pool chemicals.
· Document the chemical use.
· Post detailed instructions on pool chemical safety practices in the storage area, pump room, and chemical area. The CDC offers free laminated posters for commercial aquatic facilities HERE.
· Respond at once to any pool chemical spill with an emergency response plan.
· Use separate materials to effectively clean up spills.
· Require all pool staff to wear personal protective gear when handling chemical spills.
· Rely on preventative maintenance to catch failing equipment and parts.
Ignoring pH and alkalinity levels.
All pools and spas must have a balanced pH and alkalinity. When the pH dips too low it becomes acidic. Although the water might look pristine, the low pH quickly damages your pool’s equipment such as the following:
· Chemical feeder
Maintain the proper pH levels in your pool water via frequent testing and with the aid of aquatic maintenance software, such as VivoPoint cloud-based solutions by VivoAquatics. If the pH levels are off, then you’ll need your staff to adjust the pool chemicals accordingly.
Not recognizing entrapment as a hazard and failing to implement preventative strategies.
Pumps circulate the water to prevent RWIs, but entrapments can quickly become a real and life-threatening danger. Entrapment, evisceration, and entanglement of limbs, hair, body, bath suit, or jewelry can all take place at the suction outlet. The victim will quickly be sucked in and held at the drain cover or outlet.
Entrapment occurs when a swimmer becomes entrenched in a suction fitting or drain in the pool due to water suction or from having an item become stuck in the opening. This is a serious danger with children who are normally not strong enough to break free and can quickly drown.
Recently, the BBC reported about a six year old girl who almost drowned at a hotel in Lanzarote when her hair was sucked into the swimming pool’s filter. The child was underwater for more than two minutes. Two days prior, a small boy was also entrapped in the same filter when his swim trunks were sucked into the system.
Installing multiple drains and effective shut off twists is imperative for children’s wade pools.
Pool suction devices are highly regulated in the United States, but the laws do vary significantly city to city and state to state. Older pools and spas continue to pose the greatest risk if they have not been updated with the newest safety technology.
An untrained operator or staff might not recognize entrapment and will fail to carry out effective preventative strategies.
· Ensure all drains have an anti-entrapment cover in place that follows APSP/ANSI-16 standard.
· Regularly check the covers for missing pieces, breaks, cracks and to make sure they are secure.
· Maintain records of all maintenance programs to help prevent liability. VivoPoint software helps with safety and compliance by providing a daily log with incident documentation and operational task management.
· Have an emergency shut off switch next to the pool or spa.
· Install safety devices that shut off the suction if the device’s pressure should spike, which shows a possible victim entrapped in the system.
· Upgrade pools with a single grate to have at least two outlets for each pump along with the suction release system.
· Install dome-shaped covers which prevent the entire drain from becoming covered by a victim.
· Limit suction through the drain at a rate of 1.5 feet per second.
· Add more anti-entrapment devices or systems if there is only a single main drain or if there are several drains spaced less than three feet apart: drain disablement, gravity drainage system, or automatic pump shut off system.
· Train all staff in the dangers of drain entrapment.
Overlooking safeguarding the pool when closed.
When a pool or spa is closed, it is at its most vulnerable because there is no one watching and protecting the facility. Many owners and operators think that the fence and security doors coupled with a closed sign will suffice. Unfortunately, such simple measures often do not work.
Public pools require a sizable amount of safety. Some states require a six- or eight-foot fence around the aquatic facility. Many owners are even opting to install a 10-foot barrier fence.
Added safeguards include using a pool cover and a floating buoy detection system.
Lack of owner involvement.
Whether you are stretched thin across a multitude of commercial properties, or you simply prefer to let your trained staff handle the day-to-day operations while you take a hands-off approach, you might be making a mistake. With any aquatic facility, the owner should show 100 percent involvement in the pool’s business.
As an owner, you will oversee things more effectively and supply a greater level of perfectionism because you are vested in the operation. If you do not watch over things, employees can become lax, and the business starts to falter.
VivoPoint aquatics software helps you become involved in your aquatics operations so you can quickly track your assets, budget, and make effective business decisions. You can access all of your facility’s data remotely via your tablet, desktop or phone so you don’t miss a beat.
You’ll also receive a detailed daily log showing water chemistry readings, operational task management and incident documentation. Stay up to date on all performance data so you can continue taking your aquatic facility to the next level of excellence. 4
Thinking signs are enough.
Hotels and other smaller aquatic facilities often believe that putting up signs such as “No Lifeguard on Duty,” or “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs will suffice and in many locations that they meet the legal requirements, but are they really enough to protect your patrons and business?
Many businesses simply cannot afford to employ full time lifeguards, so they rely on signs. Often hanging a multitude of signs that state the same warning in diverse ways can prove beneficial. You should have signs that clearly state there are no lifeguards on duty and then signs that encourage and remind parents to watch their children.
Another step is to limit the depth of an unsupervised pool to only 5 feet or less. Yes, children can still drown in only five feet of water, but a non-swimming adult has a greater chance of rescuing a drowning child with a pool depth of only 5 feet.
Commercial pool owners should try to appoint a staff member as a supervisor over the pool. They should ensure that children are supervised at all times and that everyone follows the rules. Just having an extra pair of eyes to watch over the facility can help decrease the likelihood of drowning or injuries.
Hiring lifeguards is not always enough.
Many aquatic facility owners falsely believe that hiring lifeguards to watch over the safety of patrons and prevent drowning will suffice for keeping the pool safe. Lifeguards should be supervised, managed, and highly trained for best function.
When you first advertise for experienced lifeguards, you'll probably be inundated with applications. You’ll need to take time to pick the best candidates by checking references, past experience, and certifications by continuing to send them to courses and seminars.
Even if the lifeguard applicant has certification, they still might not have the experience needed for your particular facility. Think about what form of aquatics you offer the public. Is it a traditional rectangular swimming pool or do you have a variety of slides or even waterfalls with winding rivers? Also, what is the depth of your pool? Such criteria matters when it comes to factoring in the needed lifeguard training to keep your patrons safe.
After employment it is imperative that you keep your lifeguards up to date on all techniques and practices. Ideally, your aquatic facility’s supervisors should also have lifeguard training too. The Red Cross and other respected organizations provide seminars and courses for acuity facility managers that help them attain certification.
The facility’s owner, supervisor, and manager should also familiarize themselves with all of the lifeguard techniques and policies.
When employing lifeguards, you should not hire an individual to carry out other duties such as cleanup around the pool. A lifeguard should watch the patrons only. Try to rotate the lifeguard position every thirty minutes to guarantee an ongoing fresh pair of eyes.
Always supply your lifeguards with the proper tools needed to carry out their job function such as rescue materials and medical supplies. Ideally, you should also invest in heart defibrillator equipment.
Pool Mistakes: Avoid with Updated Equipment
While avoiding public swimming pool problems and mistakes, you should also consider updating your facility’s equipment. Letting your commercial pool fall behind on technology is a big ‘no-no.’
Maintain cleanliness in the pool and spa equipment room. Avoid storing chemicals near any of the equipment or where water or heat could pose a problem. In some situations, if chemicals become mixed the results could prove toxic.
Install a sump pump in the floor of the equipment room to take care of any leaks quickly and effectively. A submersible pump with an automatic float switch will quickly drain water from the space.
To ensure that your staff and patrons remain safe, you’ll want to keep the deck clear and remove any obstructions around the perimeter of the spa or pool. Always keep the pool furniture at least five feet back from the edge. Eliminating obstructions makes it easier to exit or enter the pool.
Most health departments require special safety equipment on-hand such as a toss ring, shepherd’s crook and first aid kit.
- Toss Ring: Attach the toss ring to a rope to reach the greatest distance.
- Shepherds Hook: The shepherd’s crook hooks to a pole that measures at least 16 feet. It needs a minimum of an 18-inch opening and should support up to 150 pounds.
- Floating Safety Rope: Depending on where the pool is located, you might also need to have a floating safety rope wherever the slope of the floor starts which is typically at the four-to-six-foot depth.
Circumventing the above most common aquatic facilities mistakes give you a leg up on the competition and take your commercial pool and spa to the next level. You want your patrons to enjoy their experience at the pool, so you gain referrals and return customers. Aquatic facilities mistakes are avoidable once you understand the problems and potential solutions
One of the best ways to prevent commercial pool safety risks is to embrace the use of automation such as VivoPoint aquatics management software. You stay up to date on all of your commercial pool and spa operations while remaining compliant to all regulations. Also, you'll be able to make smart purchasing and budgeting choices to take your business to the next level.
Contact VivoAquatics today to learn more and start taking a proactive approach to avoiding common public swimming pool problems.