Feature Article - January 2015
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Safer Waters for All

MAHC Created to Improve Pool Safety

By Deborah L. Vence


What to Know About the MAHC

The new code brings a set of voluntary guidelines that are based on science and best practices to be a unifying standard for those who regulate public recreational water facilities.

"Its primary purpose is to serve as a means to reduce the risk of disease, injury and drowning at aquatic facilities nationwide," Arko said.

"One of the issues we have here is that aquatics is the national pastime," said Michael Beach, associate director for Healthy Water, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC. "There are hundreds of thousands of visits every year, 365 days a year, as it moves indoors each year," thus increasing the risk even more for drownings and waterborne illnesses.

"We want people to become aware and understand the issues. This is all aquatic venues treated with recirculated water. It's the venue … everything that is encompassed is covered in this code. From the aquatic operator standpoint, you need to understand that many of the larger changes are larger constructions for bigger venues," Beach said.

For instance, for a diaper changing station, it shouldn't just be something that you strap on to the wall in a locker room. Ideally, there should be a separate changing area in locker rooms so parents can change their babies' diapers in a sanitary environment.

The goal is for the minimum standard to be raised, for people who don't operate their facilities as well as they should.

"We want to see that group moved up," Beach asserted.

Furthermore, Cacioppo added that pool operators should become familiar with all of the main topics of the MAHC, as well as many of the subtopics.

"But, it is very subjective what is more important and what is less important," he said. "I personally believe cleaning (vacuuming and brushing) is vital, yet the code makes no reference at all to this subject. It does propose regulations on other things that many would consider insignificant."

Moreover, Cacioppo argued that the code, 316 pages long and the annex another 371 pages, "is far too lengthy and detailed to ever be as effective as it may have been had it concentrated at first only on essential elements of health and safety," he said. "I believe the committee took seven years to complete the code which they originally planned to do in three because, in part, it is simply too complex."

Cacioppo, who also is the CEO and executive director of the Center for Public and Lodging Pool Studies, Princeton, N.J., believes that the MAHC addresses some very minute issues, too, such as specifics of the height of fences and flow rates to protect piping.

"It was intended when it was first proposed in 2005 to address the growing threat of Cryptosporidium, but as you can see if you just look at the Table of Contents, it includes a Glossary, and sections on Facility Design and Construction, Policies and Management, and other regulations that are only indirectly related to direct health issues," he said.

The goal is for the minimum standard to be raised, for people who don't operate their facilities as well as they should.

While there might be differing opinions on the effectiveness of the new code, the Multnomah Athletic Club, a private not-for-profit athletic and social club near downtown Portland, Ore., wants to adopt as much of the new aquatic code as it can. For many of the items, though, the club already is in compliance, such as lifeguard coverage and mechanical specs.

"I printed it out … and we are adopting it. We are pretty well situated, though, because we have a healthy budget," said Lisa Virtue, aquatics manager at the club.

"We have three pools with backup help. We have supervisors on every hour that we are open, an aquatic [supervisor] or manager on duty. As far as lifeguard coverage, I do know that private clubs will struggle with that. We don't have to provide lifeguards, but we choose to," she said.

For lifeguard coverage, as pool managers go, the main issue is money. There are other clubs that don't provide lifeguards, choosing to avoid that expense.

"From the facility side," Virtue said, "we are pretty up to date. We have UV in all of our pools; pumps that run appropriately; air-handler units. And we updated everything in there."

To boot, "Our local health official has been great about talking to us, with the operators, [and asking] what is your opinion on this. That's been fantastic," she said.

At Multnomah, at least four lifeguards are on duty at its three pools, and rotate every 30 minutes, with a supervisor and coordinator on duty as well.

"Right now, there is no reason to do the code unless you are building a new facility. But, personally, if I would build a pool, I would look at the MAHC," she said.