Guest Column - July 2007
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Aquatic Staff Training: Good Business Sense

Association Guest Column: National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF)

By Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D.

anagement has the responsibility to plan, organize, supervise and control facility programs and personnel efforts. They must apply these general responsibilities to the specific business environment to ensure suitable revenue and profit. Sustainability requires organizations to create value, attract and retain customers, manage operational cost, and prevent extraordinary expenses. This applies to both privately-owned and government-supported facilities.

Substantial marketing and sales investments are made to attract customers. Retaining existing customers is far less expensive than attracting new ones. Thus, creating a positive customer experience through programming, policies, procedures and personnel training is paramount.

The primary short-term value that recreation facilities deliver to customers is pleasure or fun. In the long term, facilities deliver healthier lives. Since recreational facilities involve physical activity, injury and fatality risks exist. Such events can be minor or catastrophic with substantial moral and financial consequences. On one end of the spectrum, minor issues like poor water or air quality can alienate existing customers, reducing the chance of them becoming repeat customers. On the other end, severe injuries or death can result in terrible anguish, poor public relations and catastrophic liability, all chasing away current and potential customers.

Overall, many aquatic recreational facilities are not operated adequately to minimize the unique risk created by an aquatic environment. Although there are "pockets of excellence," they are separated by expanses of inadequate management and operations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compiled and analyzed data on aquatic facility operations and management from six regions and found troubling results. Ninety-seven percent of the data represented jurisdictions that required trained and certified operators. However, of the 22,131 health department pool inspections, 8.3 percent (1,836) were closed immediately due to severe violations (as reported in the "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" from June 6, 2003). Out of the 5,209 public spa inspections, the story was worse—about 11.1 percent (578) were immediately closed (as reported in the "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" of July 2, 2004). Although operator training was required by law, about one in four facilities did not have a certified operator available.

Mounting scientific evidence indicates that aquatic facility managers who do not have trained and certified operators are more likely to place the public at risk. In the February 2007 International Journal of Aquatic Research & Education, Johnson and Kinzinger reported on a study of 572 pools and spas focusing on water quality. They reported that, "A certified pool operator on location makes a significant difference in the water quality and safe operation of our public pools and spas."

Luke Jacobs reported a similar conclusion at the 2005 World Aquatic Health Conference. He found that statistically, certified operators had significantly fewer violations that warranted immediate closures per inspection than pools operated by non-certified operators. An additional study relating operator training to the effectiveness of pool operations will be presented by Dr. Bryan F. Buss at the 2007 World Aquatic Health Conference.

It is a prudent business decision for facility managers to train and certify pool and spa operators to reduce risk. Aquatic venues create several unique risks not familiar to those who manage "dry" facilities, including drowning, recreational water illness, suction entrapment and chemical exposure. Public health leaders acknowledge that pool and spa operator training reduces risk. In fact, 20 state legislatures have implemented operator training requirements. Approximately 18,000 operators achieve certification each year in North America from the leading nonprofit providers, including the National Swimming Pool Foundation's Certified Pool-Spa Operator (CPO) certification training, and the National Recreation & Park Association's Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO). Several for-profit companies also offer operator training programs.