PRB Articles


Safeguarding Aquatic Facilities

The protection and safety of guests at aquatic facilities has gained recent attention with the passing of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007 (H.R. 1721). President Bush signed this into law late in 2007 as the first federal pool and spa safety legislation. The legislation provides incentives for states to adopt comprehensive pool safety laws that will protect children from horrible, life-threatening injuries and deaths caused by dangerous pool and spa drains. Two publicized accidents involving 6-year old children this past summer renewed interest in the cause-and-effect of suction entrapment in swimming pools, which encouraged legislators to take action.

Although aquatic industry leaders have been wrestling with the entrapment issue for years, determining the best ways to prevent suction entrapment is still a concern. The Consumer Product Safety Commission will be monitoring the movement, and how the CPSC interprets the wording of the Pool and Spa Safety Act should be watched with interest by all aquatic professionals.

Designers and engineers involved with new construction have placed emphasis on dual main drains for years. Additional safety devices are now available. Safety Vacuum Release Systems, as well as the elimination of direct suction through gravity flow systems, are two additional areas of protection that should be considered. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in facility design and development to adhere to current as well as proposed anti-entrapment mechanics.

Addressing The Issues

In most of the tragic cases involving entrapment, the cause appears to be based on broken or missing drains. These accidents could have been avoided by concerted observation of the pool drains by the aquatic staff on duty. Pool-operator courses should include a discussion of the importance of constant review of the mechanical equipment and an emphasis on being able to see the main drain clearly, as well as checking the drains for any breaks or loose screws.

Prior articles in this series have reiterated the importance of safety and protection of the public. The safe use and handling of chemicals, an understanding of hydraulics and an awareness of electrical currents are only a few areas in which the aquatic manager must be educated. When a crisis occurs, it places the facility in jeopardy.

The primary duty of an aquatic facility manager must be to ensure the health and safety of the bathers. All staff must be educated to identify risks and know how to reduce the incidence of injury to patrons. The first step in hazard elimination is a review of the entire facility. Accident reports should be filed with every incident, no matter how irrelevant it may seem to the operator.

The checklists should include the following guidelines, and all aquatic managers should be alert for potential hazards. A second set of eyes may enhance the identification of hazards.

1. Inspection of the main drains should be done daily to ensure there are no loose or missing covers. In addition, any other suction device should be examined closely. Dedicated vacuum lines should be covered and, if possible, a separate valve in the filter room should be closed while the facility is open. Skimmers must contain skimmer baskets, and deck covers are to be screwed on tightly.

2. Check the filter system for any cracks or leaks. The filters are operating under pressure, and any cracking or leaking may result in a malfunction of the operation, resulting in injury to the maintenance staff or destroying the filter room environment.

3. Review the interior surface of the pool and check for cracks, loose plaster and falling tile, all of which may result in a patron being scratched or cut.

4. All ladders, diving blocks, diving boards and slides should be inspected. In some cases entrapment has occurred in the area between the pool wall and the ladder, resulting in drowning. Health codes are now being revised to maintain no more than 6 inches between the wall and the ladder. In addition, the ladder treads must be secure and in place.

Diving boards, heights and distances should be measured as well as the floor slopes and depths to ensure they comply with the most recent American National Standards Institute rules. If they are not in compliance, the removal of the boards is mandatory.

5. Make sure the decking is clean, nonskid and clear of obstructions. Slipping and falling due to algae growth on the deck area have occurred. In addition, the manager should look at the expansion joints to be certain there is no potential for tripping. No glass or food should be allowed on pool decks.

6. Examine all lighting, and replace any missing or blown bulbs according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If a light fixture needs to be replaced, the light cord cannot be spliced.

7. Facility managers should assess the status of all electrical devices and be sure they are ground-fault protected. This includes in-pool cleaners, lighting (within the pool or in the facility area) and any audio equipment, either on the deck or attached to the wall.

8. Check water chemistry parameters, and record these at least three times a day manually. Many facilities have computerized controls in place for reading and adding chemicals automatically, but these can malfunction. Therefore, it is recommended that manual readings should be taken with an approved DPD commercial test kit.

9. Water clarity is of the utmost importance. Most codes require that the main drain be clearly seen from the pool deck. Water clarity or turbidity can be measured with a device called a nephelometer or turbidimeter. Most facilities are rated satisfactory if a 2-inch disk with black and red quadrants can be seen through 15 feet of water.

10. Monitor the security in and around the facility. Check all gates, fences and locks to ensure no one enters without permission or proper supervision. Barriers should comply with the newest standards as well as local and state health and building codes.

11. All pool rules and signage must be posted and written according to local and state codes. These rules are usually just minimum requirements; it is advisable to post additional rules related to the facility as well. Additional signage should be posted in the chemical storage area, warning all concerned of chemical dangers and hazards.

12. Safety and rescue equipment must be accessible around the pool. Local health codes mandate the minimum requirements for these apparatuses. A strong pole, not telescopic, with a shepherd’s crook, should be reachable by anyone in the pool. A U.S. Coast Guard-approved ring buoy(s) with a throwing rope equal to two thirds the width of the pool should be readily available. A rope and float line dividing the shallow from the deep end needs to be in place at all times. Taking the line off for swimming should be done only when a supervised swim coach or staff member is conducting special activities.

Additional rescue tubes, buoys and backboards, as well as a first-aid kit, are required by many health codes.

Aquatic managers should consider obtaining and then training in the use of Automated External Defibrillators. AEDs are easy to use and may provide a swimmer relief from cardiac arrest.

An in-depth inspection of all the above issues will prevent hazards, and ensure safety of the patrons. If any hazard is noted, it is the responsibility of the facility manager to immediately remedy the deficiency. If it is necessary to close the facility for a period of time to fix the problem, it must be done. A casual attitude toward any hazard creates a risk of injury, drowning or death.

Connie Gibson Centrella is Program Director for the online Aquatic Engineering Program at Keiser University eCampus. She is an industry veteran with over 40 years experience in the pool and spa industry. She is a former pool builder with extensive knowledge in pool construction and equipment installation as well as manufacturing.

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