Feature Article - April 2004
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Safe and Swim

The best risk management practices for pool and waterpark safety

By Kim Tobin

Water chemistry education

Having a sparkling clean pool with clear water not only looks inviting but is also a factor in drowning prevention, as well as disease prevention and other health ills.

"If your pool is cloudy, or something is not balanced, there is more of a drowning risk, a pool closure risk from the health department or even conditions you might not know about (like the presence of e.coli)," says Rick Dempsey, an aquatic consultant and educator based in Houston, Texas. "Education in water chemistry and equipment, awareness of waterborne diseases, and the aesthetics of water chemistry are critical to safe, smooth operation."

Dempsey points to a lack of education in water chemistry as a big contributor to pool problems.

"Out of agencies and municipalities out there, only about 30 percent of managers get good training," he says. "That training directive has to come from management. Operators don't always know where to get it and won't necessarily go to a director to ask."

Problems can build up.

"If the pool water is not a major problem, it's not the number-one priority, and few people are involved," Dempsey continues. "However, when the pool is not doing well, everyone gets involved. That's where management, if it knew and made more of an effort for staff to get the proper training, could help stop problems before they started."

Managers and operators should have both broad knowledge of water chemistry in general as well as knowing the particulars of their facility's water characteristics.

"Rules and values for things like free chlorine and combined chlorine can change so much from state to state and county to county," says John Carnesi, owner of Just4Kids Swim School in Baltimore, Md. "Water makeup itself is also very different across states as well, from alkalinity to calcium hardness. So, what works for me in Baltimore doesn't necessarily work for people in California. You have to become very knowledgeable about what your own water is like and how you deal with it in your area. I've been to so many classes where people teach the basics, and that's it."

Carnesi recently took the time to additionally educate himself and his staff in water chemistry. The changes he implemented in his chlorine delivery method as a result of his knowledge has helped his pool run more efficiently and helped eliminate a chloramine problem that had been plaguing his facility on and off for a few years.

"We spent an enormous amount of wasted time trying to learn how to fix our problems," he says. "We don't worry as much anymore. Know your locality's rules, your water's chemistry and take ownership of the potential danger that can exist. I've spent an enormous amount of money insuring that, for the infants I put into the water, their safety comes first."

Carnesi also cautions against operating with an "if it's not broken, then don't fix it" philosophy.

"Certain places will try to get by with the least amount they can do," he says. "The health departments are stretched thin. They can show up for one month and not show up again for six months. You can't say, 'OK, I just have to fix it once every six months and run it into the ground in between.' It really falls upon the integrity of the facility owner and them making sure they put everything into place to provide a safe environment—they can't just rely on the health department to do it."