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.

Managers of recreational facilities must implement training and procedures to prevent the key unique risks associated with aquatic venues. Advances continue to be made to minimize these risks. Prevention is paramount.

According to the CDC, in the United States each year, there are about 600 fatal drowning incidents and about 2,800 non-fatal drowning incidents that result in hospital visits. Although most drowning occurs at residences, many incidents occur at public facilities and even guarded facilities. The Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes barrier guidelines to limit access to aquatic facilities. Lifeguards should be certified by one of the many exceptional guarding programs. To further advance guarding, the American Red Cross, the YMCA and US Lifesaving are researching the science behind guarding, in a study partially funded by the NSPF.

The number of RWI outbreaks has been trending upward for over a decade. Pools and spas are perfect places to introduce bacteria, viruses and cysts from users' rectal areas, their skin and the environment. Unless it is properly treated, water also helps harbor, grow and spread disease-causing germs that result in illness.

Proper disinfection and water chemistry controls most pathogenic bacteria. However, chlorine-resistant pathogens like cryptosporidium (crypto) have become the leading cause of documented outbreaks, with 128 outbreaks since 1998. Fortunately, new technologies are available. Educational materials to discourage people from swimming if they are suffering from diarrhea are available from

Aquatic recreational facility management also must prevent chemical mishandling. Some toxic chemicals used to disinfect water, prevent RWI and maintain clear water are gentle to the user and the facility. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) and product labels should be carefully consulted. An untrained technician may not realize that mixing certain chemicals will release toxic chlorine gas that could result in a facility or surrounding-community evacuation. Other chemicals could explode or cause an intense fire.

Poor indoor air quality could alienate patrons or increase their risk of asthma or their exposure to potentially carcinogenic disinfection byproducts. Fortunately, ongoing research is under way to improve indoor air quality and minimize formation and exposure to undesirable chemicals.

Pumps are needed to circulate, filter and chemically treat water to maintain sanitary bathing conditions. However, pumping water creates a suction entrapment hazard that must be prevented. Entrapment, entanglement or evisceration occur when a limb, the torso, the body, hair or the buttocks come into contact with a suction outlet, resulting in the victim being held to the outlet. Direct suction can be eliminated from the pool or spa during the design phase. If direct suction is present, options to prevent entrapment are available: dual-main drains, anti-entrapment covers, vent lines and devices that turn pumps off if an entrapment is detected. If a drain cover is missing or damaged, the pool or spa should be closed and remain closed until a new anti-entrapment cover is installed.

Tremendous expense, planning and customer attention is devoted to running an aquatic facility. Maintaining proper water balance helps preserve the facility and reduce maintenance expenses by preventing damage to surfaces and equipment. Equipment installation and operation manuals include preventive maintenance information to ensure the equipment operates properly.

Aquatic facility management must attract and retain customers with value, including a well-run facility.

Implementing training programs for facility staff—including operators—is vital to retain customers, to operate a facility efficiently and to prevent extraordinary expenses that are often a result of preventable injuries, illness, drowning or accelerated facility wear.


Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF). He has researched and published in diverse fields including catalysts, detergents, solvents and recreational water. Prior to joining NSPF in 2003, he was responsible for product development for a leading recreational water treatment chemical and equipment company.

The NSPF is a nonprofit organization founded in 1965 that is committed to improving public health worldwide by encouraging healthier living through aquatic education and research. For more information, visit