Examining Outdoor Pools

Beyond making sure a pool is compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety (VGB) Act, using security fencing, and providing well-trained lifeguards, what can managers do to increase safety?

Start by using signage to educate pool-goers on safe practices, such as:

• Pool rules (no running, no glass, no diving)

• Times when a lifeguard is on duty

• Emergency procedures

• Noting those who are not permitted to swim (someone who is ill or has a bandage or has an open wound).

Since slip-and-fall injuries often occur, a non-slippery deck must surround the pool.

Establish a walking perimeter around the pool at least 4 feet wide. This allows enough space for people to walk safely without tripping over lounge chairs or sunbathers.

Those using umbrellas for shade must keep them as far as possible from the pool, and the umbrellas must be secured to prevent them from being picked up by the wind.

See Clearly

Water clarity is essential to pool safety. It is imperative that the pool water be kept in good condition, and is clear enough for someone to see the screws on the VGB-compliant drain cover.

Visibility is indicative of the correct levels of pH and chlorine. If the pool water is cloudy, the chemicals are out of balance, or the pool does not have enough sanitizer.

“It is important to keep the pH maintained between 7.2 and 7.8. If the pH levels decrease to 7.0 or less, or increase above 7.8, the pool should be closed,” says Steve White, president and owner of Underwater Pool Masters Inc., a professional swimming-pool service company.

“Chlorine works most effectively and safely around 7.5, which is the best ideal pH for the pool.”

If the pH is above or below the recommended levels, swimmers will experience a stinging sensation in their eyes because the pH of the human eye is between 7.4 and 7.6.

There are several reasons for water-clarity failure, including a dirty filter or an ineffective one because it was not properly matched to the right turnover rate for the pool. However, one problem that can occur literally overnight is the addition of new water to compensate for splash-out.

“Phosphate is added to community water supplies to aid in the preservation of disintegrating metal pipes. Although it is safe for people to drink, you don't want it in a pool because the phosphates fuel the growth of algae plants,” says White. “This has a negative impact on chlorine's ability to act as a sanitizer.”

In a big pool when new water is added or a new pool is filled and there are high levels of phosphates in the water, the pool water turns a green tint.

To prevent this, have the fill water tested by a professional water-testing service to determine the content. If the phosphate level is greater than 100 parts per million, a phosphate remover must be added to the pool.

“It doesn't take too much to affect the water quality,” says White. “If the phosphate level is 100 parts or less, it isn't an issue, but once you go above that, you're going to have serious problems with water clarity.”

Getting In And Out

Lending a helping hand so pool users can get in and out of the pool safely also should be examined. The surface of steps and ramps must be of an aggregate material.

Whenever possible, offer two handrails to provide more support for people with disabilities.

“Railings should be secured with bronze anchors because other metals can cause the metal of the anchor and the stainless-steel railing to fuse together,” says Keith Monk, national sales director with Inter-Fab, a manufacturer of safety railing.

“The person checking the chemicals in the pool should also check for broken anchors and concrete.”

Steps on ladders also must be inspected regularly to make sure they are not likely to break when somebody puts weight on the step.

Keep in mind that people must be able to get on a ladder to use it.

“When a person floats up to a ladder to get out of the pool, they need to be fairly agile to get their foot up on the step,” says Monk. “If the ladder extends a few more feet, it makes it easier for a person who doesn’t have a lot of mobility to get their foot on the bottom rung.”

Stainless steel is a common choice for railings, but can tarnish. Powder-coating is available in a variety of colors; light colors are recommended to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by the railing--resulting in a cooler, safer surface to grip.

Marking It Up

“In pools where there is any water greater than 5 feet deep, it is important to have a line of demarcation, such as 4-inch-wide dark line that goes up the sidewall and across the bottom of the pool. At a glance, people can see how deep the pool is. This is especially important for non-swimmers,” says White.

“A safety rope is a good idea as well. A physical separation of the shallow water from the deep water serves as another way to alert swimmers to the change in water depth.”

Covering The Off-Season

When the season is over, keep the pool covered--this limits the potential for someone to take a swim, and decreases the amount of debris that tumbles in during the off-season. Mesh pool-covers allow the rainwater and snowmelt to pass through while also reducing the amount of sunlight, depending on how tight the mesh is woven.

“Organic materials in the pool break down and can stain the pool,” says Mike Preuit, product manager, CoverLogix, a manufacturer of safety-covers for in-ground pools. “You’ll see increases in both algae growth and the breakdown of organic materials when more light is able to enter the water.”

Mesh pool-covers are made to fit the pool, and are secured in place by bronze anchors. Tarp-covers are not a safe alternative because if a person falls into the pool, the tarp will close around him or her, making it extremely difficult to escape. If tarps are used, replace them every 2 years.

If a pool-cover is used for a standard-shaped pool, it will typically pay for itself in 5 to 7 years; it may also lead to reduced insurance rates.

Pool Safety

Although keeping a pool safe might seem like a daunting task, it is one that must be attended to with commitment to quality and professionalism.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.