Feature Article - January 2005
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Potentially Dangerous When Wet

Aquatic risk management red flags

By Stacy St. Clair



CLEAN WATER

You train your staff to prevent drowning. You've installed higher fences and security systems to prevent unwanted after-hours visitors.

But how much have you done to prevent recreational water illnesses? Sanitary water means healthier, happier patrons and reduces liability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has aggressively studied water illnesses, offers these dozen rules for cleaner pools.

1. LEAD YOUR STAFF

Make sure your staff understands the importance of preventing recreational water illnesses (RWIs). Discuss feasible steps for preventing an outbreak. Let your guards know it's OK to correct patrons who engage in unsafe behavior. For example, employees should be encouraged to stop patrons who change diapers near the water or on lounge chairs.

2. PARTNER UP

Work with the local health department and other pools to share information about outbreaks in your area. Ask local schools, day-care centers and camps to inform you of any diarrheal illnesses. Early warnings give you an opportunity to be more vigilant and step up sanitary measures.

3. EDUCATE YOUR STAFF

Would you put an uncertified lifeguard in the chair? Of course not.

But how many of you let an untrained employee oversee the cleanliness of your water? Too many. Make sure your pool operators have taken a standardized training course taught by aquatics professionals.

4. EDUCATE PATRONS

Start by educating your season-pass holders, as they are likely to be your most frequent visitors. Consider brief safety programs for large groups before they enter the pool complex. This is especially important for large children's groups such as day-care centers and day camps.

5. MAINTAIN EQUIPMENT

Keep the chemical feed equipment and chemicals at optimal levels within state and local regulations. As you may know, poor pH control can compromise chlorine's effectiveness as a disinfectant. Make sure your staff knows that, too.

6. CHECK YOUR DESIGN

If you're building a new waterpark or aquatic center, consider a design that will best prevent the spread of water illness. Wading-pool filtration systems, for example, should not be on the same system as the rest of facility. This means only the kiddie pool will have to be closed in the event of a diarrheal incident.

7. INSTITUTE DISINFECTANT GUIDELINES

Have a written fecal accident policy in place and keep a record of all fecal accidents. This may help you respond more efficiently to any problems. Also make sure your staff is trained so they can respond properly and explain to patrons why, under some circumstances, it is critical to close the pool for a period of time. For detailed disinfectant guides, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/fecalacc.htm.

8. EVALUATE YOUR HYGIENE FACILITIES

CDC studies show parents contend they change diapers at poolside because changing rooms were unclean, poorly maintained and/or had inadequate diaper-changing facilities. Eliminate this excuse by providing clean, well-lit, well-stocked changing facilities close to the pool. Make sure the facility has warm running water and antibacterial soap.

9. DEVELOP A BATHROOM-BREAK POLICY

Reduce fecal outbreaks by scheduling hourly disinfectant breaks. Encourage parents to use the time to take their children to the bathroom. To prevent the spread of germs, make sure the bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper and ample soap for hand washing.

10. CREATE SPECIAL POLICIES FOR LARGE GROUPS

If large groups such as day-care centers frequent your facility, consider requiring the care providers to take RWI orientation. Make sure they realize your pool—just like their day-care center—does not allow children who are ill with diarrhea.

11. POST AND DISTRIBUTE HEALTH INFORMATION

The CDC offers posters and pamphlets to educate patrons on the dangers of recreational water illnesses. Post your pool's inspection reports, which let your patrons know you're taking sanitary water seriously.

12. DEVELOP AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Most pools have an emergency response plan for injuries and drowning, but few have a plan for managing a recreational water illnesses outbreak. Appoint a spokesperson to ensure that a consistent response is given to outside sources such as callers, the media, health department officials and others. Talk to colleagues who have experienced an outbreak. Ask them what parts of their response plans worked—and what did not.