Swimming pool and hot-water spas offer many benefits to fitness center operators and their membership. With these benefits comes the responsibility to effectively manage the facility, minimizing risk. Education is the first step towards building awareness. Awareness helps guide prevention, reducing risk for members and staff.

Of utmost importance is making sure that the person who operates the pool and spa is trained and certified because no simple rules can prevent every hazard. Several scientific disciplines apply to proper pool and spa operation, including chemistry, microbiology, engineering, public health and mathematics. It is rare to find aquatic and facility professionals with formal training in two or more of these disciplines.

Here are four silent dangers that can put your facility and members at risk, and how you can help to prevent them:

1. Drowning and injuries. Although more than half of drowning occurs at residential pools, drowning remains a substantial risk at commercial pool facilities, including health clubs, where more often than not, no lifeguards are on duty. Drowning rates are shockingly high among African-American adults, of whom about 62 percent are unable to swim, and Hispanic Americans, of whom 47 percent are less likely to know how to swim.

Laurie BatterSwimmers in distress are more easily recognized when water clarity is maintained. A 2011 tragedy at a public pool in Fall River, MA, demonstrated the importance of water clarity. The drowning victim lay on the bottom of the pool for more than two days. Lifeguards and swimmers could not see her due to cloudy water. Clear water also helps prevent collisions that can render a person unconscious and susceptible to drowning.

Prevention tips:

  • Close the pool if the bottom is not clearly visible.
  • Reinforce the importance of adult supervision to prevent drowning.
  • Install self-closing, self-latching gates and barriers to delay entry of children.
  • Be sure warning signs are posted and visible.
  • Encourage the buddy system, even for those who say they know how to swim.
  • Offer a learn-to-swim program for children and adults, and a swim program for fearful swimmers.

Due to the high water temperature of spas, some additional tips apply to spas:

  • The spa should be regularly drained, cleaned and water replaced before a bad smell or foaming occurs.
  • Water temperature should not exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Vulnerable populations should consult with physicians before using the spa.
  • Limit automatic timer exposure to 15 minutes.
  • Post appropriate warning signs and location of spa shutoff switches.

2. Recreational water illness (RWI). RWIs are caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, E. coli and Shigella that are spread by swallowing pool water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. If someone has diarrhea, that person can easily contaminate the pool. Germs causing RWIs are inactivated by chlorine. However, chlorine does not work right away. And some germs such as Crypto can remain infectious in pools for days.

Unfortunately, over the last decade, RWIs have been on the rise at commercial facilities. Pools and spas are an ideal environment to harbor, grow and spread disease-causing germs that result in illness. Inadequate disinfectant levels remain a major cause of disease outbreaks.

Free posters and brochures are available to build consumer awareness and encourage healthy swimming practices that prevent the spread of disease.

Prevention tips:

  • Maintain chlorine levels, pH, and water turn-over rates through the filtration system consistent with those required by the local code or the facility's design specifications. Verify the water chemistry at least three times per day.
  • Consider automated water testing and chemical feeders help make pool care easier.
  • Filtration and circulation systems should be maintained and properly operating
  • Maintain great water clarity.
  • Keep restrooms and surrounding areas sanitary.

Healthy swimming tips to share with your members:

  • Don't swim with diarrhea.
  • Don't swim for two weeks if you had Cryptosporidiosis. Discourage people from using the pool if they have had diarrhea within two weeks –some disease-causing organisms such as Cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorine.  
  • Don't swallow pool or spa water.
  • Don't swim unless you shower, and wash your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Change diapers frequently in the bathroom, never poolside.
  • Wash children with soap and water thoroughly before swimming.

Remind members about the Six Pleas from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and post them where they can be read.

According to a recent study by the CDC, about one in 10 facilities have health violations that warrant immediate closure. Facility operators should have trained and certified operators caring for their pools during the week and on weekends. Club owners who choose otherwise assume a substantial and often catastrophic risk. The best-case scenario is to have verifiable, unbiased training from a non-profit organization that is compliant with the CDC Model Aquatic Health Code.

3. Chemical exposure. Almost all chemical labels and safety data sheets reinforce the dangers of mixing chemicals. Only chemical or brands specified by the feeder manufacturer should be added to a chemical feeder. Also, automatic chemical feeders pump chemicals when the circulation system is off. Yet many chemical exposure accidents occur each year when chemicals are mixed, the wrong chemical is added to a feeder or when feeders continue to operate despite the circulation system being off.

Prevention tips:

  • Review product labels and safety data sheets.
  • Verify the chemical feeder is interlocked with the circulation system pump.
  • Only add chemicals specified by the feeder manufacturer into the chemical feeder.
  • Store chemicals in a safe area, away from other hazards, employees and members.
  • Only trained and certified operators should be responsible for the handling, adding and storing of these potentially hazardous materials.

4. Suction-entrapment. Water circulation, filtration and chemical treatment are key parts of a circulation system that help to prevent RWIs. However, using pumps to circulate water creates risks due to suction entrapment. Entrapment, entanglement or evisceration occur when body, hair, limb, buttocks or mechanical items such as jewelry or a bathing suit come into contact with a suction outlet, resulting in the victim being held to the outlet or drain cover.

An untrained operator or service person may fail to recognize entrapment as a hazard and fail to implement prevention strategies. In fact, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act) requires every public pool to have newly certified drain covers and possibly other layers of protection. Go to this link for free online training.

Prevention tips:

  • Close the pool if all suction drains do not have an anti-entrapment cover or if the drain cover is missing, broken, cracked or unsecured.
  • All drain covers are anti-entrapment covers that comply with the APSP/ANSI-16 standard.
  • Be sure to change out the drain covers according to the manufacturer's instructions and deadlines.
  • Maintain good records to guide maintenance programs and prevent liability.
  • All commercial pools and spas with a single main drain or multiple drains less than three feet apart must add one or more additional anti-entrapment devices or systems: safety vacuum release system (SVRS); suction-limiting vent system; gravity drainage system; automatic pump shut-off system, drain disablement; other systems.

Refer to the NSPF Pool & Spa Operator Handbook, Appendix C, for more detailed requirements and guidelines approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Health club aquatic facilities deliver healthier lives through exercise, fun and relaxation. Minimizing risk and prevention always starts with a well-designed facility and trained and certified staff. Training can be inexpensive and convenient with online courses.

BIO

Thomas M. Lachocki is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF). He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Louisiana State University and his BS from Lock Haven University, PA. Lachocki has researched and published in diverse fields including catalysts, detergents, solvents, and recreational water. He was awarded six patents that have been issued and are practiced in at least eight countries. Prior to joining NSPF in 2003, he was responsible for product development for a leading recreational water treatment chemical and equipment company. Contact him at (719) 540-9119 or email him at tom.lachocki@nspf.org.

Laurie Batter is passionate about helping organizations understand and communicate the incredible power of water and its unique healing effects. For 30 years, she has assisted organizations, manufacturers and retailers in the fitness, swimming pool, hot tub and backyard industries, providing marketing, public relations, advertising and promotional consulting services through her full-service marketing firm, BatterUp! Productions, a boutique agency serving clients of all sizes around the globe. Batter has received numerous recognitions including Power Publicist. She also earned the Eagle Award for outstanding contribution to the hot water industry, the industry's highest award for an individual. She served as a volunteer to Ad Hoc Barrier Code Committee for the state of California. Batter is a past chairperson of the APSP Hot Tub Council and swims a mile every day and sometimes for charity. She can be reached at batterup@batterupproductions.com.