Feature Article - February 2007
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Special Supplement: A Complete Guide to Aquatic Centers

By Jessic Royer Ocken


"There's been a lot going on in the last 10 or 20 years with the emergence of waterparks," said Lachocki, of the NSPF.

The popularity of waterparks has led even community pools to look into incorporating some of these parks' exciting recreational features into their own facilities.

"There's lots of emphasis on fun, which gets people exercising," Lachocki said. "But in parallel there needs to be the study and assessment aspect: How do these [features] impact us from a safety standpoint? Sprayparks have become more popular, and the potential for drowning there is next to impossible, but there was one of the largest outbreaks in U.S. history at a New York sprayground last year because safety hasn't caught up."

Turns out that what keeps kids safe from drowning doesn't automatically keep them safe from waterborne illness. "The bottom line with [cryptosporidium, the germ to blame for several spraypark outbreaks] is that it's chlorine-resistant, so prevention is the best approach," Lachocki said. "If you've had diarrhea, don't go swimming."

Safety and sanitation systems are catching up quickly, and ultraviolet sanitization, which kills crypto almost on contact, is now mandated for New York sprayparks. But "not every pool can afford to do that, and it will be forever before all the pools have those types of systems in place," Lachocki noted. "UV, automatic controllers, those aren't enough. We need education, awareness building and changes in behavior to make sure people know how to minimize risk from a consumer standpoint. No one wants to go to the pool and get a rash or diarrhea. Once people recognize that swimming is essentially communal bathing, they'll catch on. If you have a potential disease, it's not a good idea to swim."

As you're navigating your way through these safety considerations, be sure to keep in touch with your insurance company and with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines for your area.

Terry Knapp, manager of an older pool in Midlothian, Ill., reported that she "deals with insurance a lot. They keep us on track as far as what needs to be done and what they're looking for in terms of OSHA and safety." Although this might be frustrating at times—you have to use the money in the budget to install new deck drains rather than add an additional slide—"their guidelines make it easy to come up with a plan," Knapp said. Better insured and compliant than closed.

Beyond the safety of the water, what about safety in the water? Your staff is trained in safety procedures, but what about those using the pool? Making sure pool patrons know the rules and meet basic requirements can help prevent accidents.

When camps or visitors from other park districts come to the Midlothian Park District pool, Knapp has them start with a pre-arranged water test. Kids line up with lifeguards and swim across the pool. Those who accomplish this with ease have full access to the three pools, but those who prove less proficient may be restricted to the junior pool or to water that comes up only to their chest. To avoid an undue burden on the lifeguards, Knapp also makes sure the counselors who brought the visiting kids know their limits, so they're partly responsible for enforcing the restrictions as well.

Safety is also important for staff working behind the scenes. In particular, the chemicals you keep on site are a potential danger to those not prepared to handle them.

At the Midlothian pool, liquid chlorine is kept in two 125-gallon tanks inside a locked room. The sanitation system is automated, "so the only reason staff would ever have to go in would be if we were getting a delivery," Knapp said. "And even then they wouldn't go in. They would just unlock and open the gate and door for the delivery person."

Goggles and gloves are at the ready for use when handling the chlorine, and in case of a spill, this area is a mere 6 feet from the edge of the pool. "In the event of a spill, that's their instruction," Knapp said. "Get into the pool for an immediate flush. It won't damage the pool or anyone in there, but it gets the chlorine off faster than going to the pumphouse for the hose."

The Midlothian pool also uses dry acid, which is kept in a 50-gallon bin behind the pumphouse. The staff's only duty related to this is to "open the padlock, lift two lids to look at the level, and if it's too low notify a manager," Knapp said.

Staff members must be 18 years old to perform this duty, they must always check the acid level in pairs, and they must wear tennis shoes, rather than flip flops. Within 15 minutes, if any of the acid's tiny sugary crystals have contacted skin, they'll begin to burn their way through. A hose is kept nearby in case of any accidents.

When it comes to safety, there's almost always something further to discuss, and the particular design and circumstances of your facility will dictate the areas that need the most attention. But to get an idea of other topics to consider, see our sidebar offering "More Suggestions for a Safe Pool."