Feature Article - July 2011
Find a printable version here

Making Waves

New Strides in Aquatic Safety

By Jessica Royer Ocken

It's pricey and it doesn't replace your current guarding staff, but Munster—and seemingly all the other users of such systems—wholeheartedly endorse them. "This is just another tool in the toolbox, another way to support our programs and keep our members safe," Munster said. "It's nothing more than that, but it makes an impression on people." It's definitely a point of interest on tours for prospective new members. "Parents feel safe," he said. "We don't overplay it, but we tell people about it."

Incorporating technology is not the only option out there for improving the safety of those enjoying your water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently gathered an expert panel to discuss this very subject. "Our aim was to recognize a diversity of people interested in drowning prevention—parents, physicians, pool owners and operators, public health officers, builders, emergency responders," said Julie Gilchrist, M.D., of the U.S. Public Health Service. "If someone at the local or state level or in the industry wants to do something about drowning prevention, the idea was to create a tool kit of sorts that could jump-start their effort."

This project was spurred by the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, a law enacted in December 2007 that requires anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety features. It is named for the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III, who—despite being a strong swimmer—drowned in 2002 after she became trapped in a faulty hot tub drain.

The law provides money for states to enforce their laws related to this act, but so far no states have qualified for the funding. None have passed laws that are retroactive to cover existing pools, "so most pools are still a problem," Gilchrist said. By compiling this information, the experts hope to encourage states to get going, as well as assist a broad array of others interested in the subject.

The panel met in March 2011, and eventually their findings will be up on the CDC's Web site, although Gilchrist is not sure when. "I'd love to have it [available] for this season, but it's a long process," she said. However, it will certainly be worth the wait. The information will include a section about where to find relevant data, contact information for involved stakeholders, examples of successful policies and laws, and suggestions for public education. Rather than presenting new information, this is "more of a compilation of resources," Gilchrist explained. The site will also include case studies and descriptions and opportunities for networking and discussion about successes and challenges related to drowning prevention. Visit cdc.gov/injury and cdc.gov/healthywater for updates and to find this treasure trove when it's posted.

Ensuring Aquatic ADA Compliance

For more than 20 years now, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been paving the way for citizens with special needs to have equal access to public facilities, including recreation venues. On March 15, 2011, the latest revisions to accessible design regulations for public pools and spas became law. And compliance with these standards is required by March 15, 2012. This means even existing pools and spas must be modified to meet these standards.

These requirements include that pools longer than 300 linear feet have two accessible entrances. One may be a sloped entry, pool stairs, a transfer wall or system, or a pool lift, but the other must be a pool lift that can be independently operated by the person using it. (Not every type of lift will qualify, so be sure you're investing in one that actually satisfies the ADA's requirements.) Special-use pools (wave pools, leisure rivers, wading pools) and those smaller than 300 linear feet need only one accessible entrance.

Although public pools that can demonstrate hardship or that including such access would damage the historical integrity of their facility may be excused from doing so, the Department of Justice has expressed the opinion that given the array of options for meeting the standards and the relatively low cost of a pool lift, making the case for such exemption will be very difficult. A better option may be pursuing some of the tax incentives available to businesses seeking to comply with ADA regulations. Visit www.ada.gov/taxcred.htm to find this information.