Wading Through The Rules

By Connie Sue Centrella

When it comes to government regulations and standards in the aquatic industry, there are plenty of changes--enough to make our heads swim. Yet, keeping abreast of these changes is critical for facility managers and pool operators, who are responsible for the health and safety of guests and employees. There are currently four initiatives with which aquatic professionals should be familiar:

  • The Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC)

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance

  • Energy-Efficient Codes

  • The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (VGB).

What is the MAHC?
The Model Aquatic Health Code is meant to serve as a model and guide for local and state agencies to update or implement a pool/spa code in their jurisdiction. There is currently no federal authority for disinfected recreational venues. Also, there is no uniform standard related to the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of aquatic facilities. The responsibility of writing regulations is in the hands of local and state officials. Thus, there is a broad spectrum of ideas on how to monitor and maintain the safety and health of bathers in public facilities. An increase in recreational water-illnesses, drownings, and accidents in and around swimming pools and spas has prompted industry leaders to seek a solution.

By creating a model code and following it, industry leaders can better assure that the bathing public will visit facilities that are maintained with the highest degree of safety and health. Tracynda Davis, MPH, Director of Environmental Health Programs for the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), based inColorado Springs,Colo., states, “A national code would provide consistency and the ability to update when new science and technology come out. Consistent standards help uniform data collection, which is necessary for illness and injury investigation, and treatment. The Model Aquatic Health Code uses evidence-based data to understand waterborne illness and appropriate treatment for prevention and remediation.”

As reported in a recent news story from the NSPF, only 23 states currently have adopted requirements that public-pool operators complete a minimum two-day training program. Studies cited in the MAHC reinforce the obvious--even minimum training helps operators prevent violations of health codes. “If we are serious about reducing drowning, illness, and injuries, it is time for all states to implement minimum training requirements for people who operate public pools,”Davis adds.

Unfortunately, the track record for complying with public health codes is poor, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control. This signaled that something needed to change. Pool inspection data from 15 jurisdictions across theU.S. indicated that 12.1 percent of inspections resulted in immediate closure because of the seriousness of identified violations. Consider the following issues in violations, as well as the frequency with which they appear in inspections:

  • Free chlorine level--10.7 percent

  • pH level--8.9 percent

  • Other water chemistry--12.5 percent

  • Filtration/recirculation system--35.9 percent

  • Water test kit--3.3 percent

  • Record keeping--10.9 percent

  • Licensure--2.7 percent. *

*[CDC. Violations identified from routine swimming-pool inspections--selected states and counties,United States, 2008. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Rep. 2010; 59(19):582-587]

In The Beginning
The first MAHC development workshop was held inAtlanta,Ga., in 2005. The group brought together experts from organizations and companies that represent all segments of the pool and aquatic disciplines. The mission was to create a uniform, model, aquatic health code. Technical committees were formed. Each committee appointed a chairperson, and defined the scope of work for that section of the overall model code. Through hundreds of hours of meetings, the MAHC was developed. Consisting of twelve modules, each has been in various stages of development by the technical committees, including review, public comment, and editing for uniformity by the steering committee. Industry members are urged to be involved, and to submit comments. When each module is released, it is available for 60 days for public comment. Once all the modules have been released, the entire code will again be posted for another public-comment period.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ADA Compliance
Troubling most facility operators at this time are the new ADA-compliance standards. Even at the time of this writing, meetings are in process to clarify misunderstood parts of the regulation. Also, a number of states are implementing additional regulations or modifying theADAlaw to conform to their state’s particular building codes. Facility managers and operators should consult with their legal department for interpretation.

The Department of Justice broadened its reach to include a swimming pool, a wading pool, and a spa, defined as a “place of public accommodation” in theADAregulation. Signed into law onJuly 23, 2010, full compliance standards to the newADAfor public pools and spas are required onMarch 15, 2012. TheADAregulation is a comprehensive civil-rights law with specific accessibility guidelines for newly constructed and altered facilities. All pools and spas that serve the public must comply with the rulings, or the facility will face censure and fines for not providing appropriate means of access.

While many larger aquatic institutions have previously modified their pool and spa areas to accommodate people with disabilities, most of the smaller facilities, such as hotels and motels, have refrained from spending the resources. Thus, people who need assistance entering and exiting pools and spas have been shut out. The new law assures that all people, despite their disability, are to be able to enjoy what the water has to offer.

The new guidelines base the amount of required equipment on the number of perimeter feet of the pool/spa. Less than 300 perimeter feet mandates one means of access--either a lift or sloped entry. More than 300 perimeter feet requires two means of access. Detailed information on compliance requirements may be found by visiting deck-equipment and pool-lift equipment websites.

To learn more about the ADArequirements, go to www.access-board.gov/recreation/guides/pdfs/pools.pdf.


Energy-Efficiency Codes
A growing number of states are adopting new energy standards in response to pressure from consumer- and government-advocacy groups. The initial focus was on the residential-pool sector; however, aquatic-facility operators would be wise to review their state building codes because any modification to existing equipment may need to be reviewed and approved by the local building official prior to making any changes.

California Energy Commission Title 20 Appliance Efficiency regulations have attracted the attention of the pool industry and equipment manufacturers. The Florida Energy and Conservation Code for residential pools has been adopted, and now allFloridapool contractors must comply with the new code byMarch 15, 2012. This code requires all circulating-pool pump motors of 1 horsepower or more to be two-speed or variable speed. The standard includes sizing parameters and pipe-diameter as related to flow rate. Florida also mandated that all heat pumps have a Coefficient of Performance (C.O.P) of 4.0 or greater. Fossil fuel/gas heaters must have 78 percent minimum fuel-efficiency with no standing pilot lights. All heaters must have an outside on/off switch. A clause further requires covers to be installed on in-ground spas and for heated pools to reduce heat evaporation. Liquid pool heat chemicals are included as acceptable heat retention.

Some people will say the aquatic industry is being over-regulated. Others embrace their role in helping to reduce energy usage and expense. A number of states and local utilities are encouraging pool and spa facilities to purchase the new energy-efficient equipment, with some offering rebates. Aquatic-facility operators should attend the numerous energy-efficiency seminars offered throughout the year to discover regional rebate programs.

To learn more about the energy-efficiency standard, visit www.apsp.org/Public/StandardsTechnical/Standards/index.cfm#3.

VGB Pool & Spa Safety Act
The first mandate from theU.S.government came in the form of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush onDecember 19, 2007, with a mandatory compliance date ofDecember 19, 2008. Called VGB or the Pool & Spa Safety Act, the law was written to protect pool and spa bathers from the danger of entrapment.

Most people agree the intent of the law is good, yet the implementation was flawed, and continues to cause confusion. The good news is that, since the law was enacted, there have been noU.S.entrapment fatalities and no serious injuries. The pundits continue to debate the particulars of the law, and seek to change its scope. Managers and operators should stay aware and informed of any developing changes in the law. Vigilance and attention are the best protection against liability. Operators should follow current compliance requirements, and continue to retrofit and install approved anti-entrapment main drains and additional layers of protection.

It is the aquatic manager and pool operator’s responsibility to stay current with the ongoing industry initiatives. With better knowledge, operators will be more prepared to meet changes, answer questions from management, and avoid liability.

Connie Sue Centrella is a professor and Program Director for the online Aquatic Engineering Program atKeiserUniversity eCampus. She is a five-time recipient of the Evelyn C. Keiser Teaching Excellence Award “Instructor of Distinction.” Centrella 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.