Guest Column - July/August 2005
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Inspecting Aquatic Facilities

National Swimming Pool Foundation

By Thomas M. Lachocki

While the nation's financial health depends on more people exercising and maintaining their physical health, this societal need is reinforced by troubling increases in maladies from sedentary lifestyles. The aging population further limits the physical activity options available. Media attention educates the public on issues but often neglects the benefits that recreational activities provide. In the event of injuries or death, defending against litigation and escalating insurance further discourages providers of healthy recreational activities. As a result, the recreation field must continue to minimize hazards that can interfere with healthy activities.

Aquatic venues are exceptional avenues for people to achieve healthy pursuits. Yet the water environment also brings unique hazards, including drowning, recreational water illness, diving injury, suction entrapment, electrocution, and slip-and-fall injuries.

Governments already have instituted several controls to reduce injuries at aquatic facilities. While laws regulate public pool and spa construction, operation, and product labeling, no government intervention is as effective as an educated management and staff operating a facility. Periodic facility inspections by health departments may help, but routine inspections by trained facility personnel are a more useful tool to reduce risk at swimming pools. Although similar guidance applies, other factors need to be considered for facilities that contain spas or water features.

Facility inspections

Before any inspection, review the local codes or laws that govern the facility's operation. Also, familiarity with electrical codes, product labels and operator manuals is a big help. When inspecting a facility, it is helpful to divide the facility into separate zones.

The five key areas that should regularly be inspected are:

  • In the water itself
  • Around the water
  • In the pump/storage room
  • The records
  • Special elements like spas or water features
In the water

Although modern society has evolved around water and the human body is largely composed of water (about 70 percent), water environments have hazards that place people at risk. In the absence of a disinfectant, water is an excellent environment to grow and transmit disease. In fact, the number of recreational water illness outbreaks has been increasing.

The highest priority is to ensure that proper disinfectant levels and pH is maintained to control the levels of disease-causing microorganisms. The other water testing largely focuses on protecting the facility and equipment.

Clear water ensures a view to the bottom so that active and passive drowning victims are visible and collisions between people are reduced. Clear water helps prevent suction entrapment because the drain covers, including the screws used to fasten them, can be inspected. Safety lines and lines on the pool floor help patrons differentiate between shallow and deep water and a change in pool bottom slope.

Water must be circulated to prevent "dead spots" and ensure the entire body of water contains disinfectant. An inspector can perform several qualitative checks. The return inlets should be spaced and pointed to encourage circulation throughout the pool. The inspector can verify water flow from each return inlet by placing a hand or a string attached to a pole in front of the inlets. Water should be flowing over the overflow gutters or the weir in the skimmer to help remove debris and contaminant from the water surface.

Periodically, pools need to be refilled to the proper level with potable water. Pool water cannot be allowed to flow back and contaminate the potable water system. An inspector can confirm that there is an air gap between the fill line and the pool to prevent back flow.

Pools and spas that don't have clear water, secure drain covers, and proper disinfectant and pH levels throughout the body of water should be closed immediately.