Feature Article - January 2015
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Safer Waters for All

MAHC Created to Improve Pool Safety

By Deborah L. Vence


A Team Effort

To help make the MAHC possible, technical committees were created to work specifically on the code. And, since 2007, the CDC has led a national collaborative effort with public health, industry and academic representatives from across the United States to develop the MAHC, which is available online at the CDC website, www.cdc.gov.

Designers, public comment and the input of 150 industry experts were part of the MAHC's establishment.

"This is basically the outcome from state, academics working together and coming up with model guidance," Beach said.

"Everyone was involved in this. It was developed by a technical committee," Sackett added. "So, we would have public comment, and then once it had those revisions, [they would] meld it into one document, the whole blended version. We looked at those proposals. We had over 4,000 public comments, and about 72 percent were incorporated. Posted on the web, the draft version was on the web. There is a public forum and anybody out there reviewing the code … here's the section and here's why we'd like to change, providing the rationale."

A number of volunteer teams made up of health officials, scientists and recreational water professionals contributed to the MAHC.

"It has been peer-reviewed and revised prior to the initial publication. The main intent of the document is to serve as an all-encompassing health and safety document," Arko said.

"We feel that it really has a lot of merit," Sackett said. "It incorporates the best possible practices. The annex is a parallel document. It's the 'why' behind the 'what.' What data was looked at? How it came to that code section."

"The nicest thing about the MAHC is that it gives you the code in code language. In the annex it gives you the rationale and why they came up with the code," noted Tom Griffiths, president and founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group, LLC. "It educates the reader so they would be more knowledgeable when they have to make a decision. It gives you all of that information. I think of the MAHC as an encyclopedia of best practices."

The CMAHC

Water treatment today is about how facilities provide a cleaner, safer and more enjoyable experience for patrons, all while using less chemicals and wasting water.

To keep the MAHC updated every two years, a special committee called the Conference for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC) was formed.

Every two years the CDC will work with national partners to update the MAHC to ensure that it stays current with the latest industry advances and public health findings. CMAHC members will suggest MAHC revisions for the CDC's final determination.

While the MAHC is owned by the CDC and resides on its website, "What we did was set up a nonprofit corporation to be the source, to gather input and provide feedback and input on the code. Things evolve quite rapidly, and there is more research that needs to be done; to keep it up to date and current. We wanted to update it routinely," Sackett said.

Drowning Prevention

Continued efforts to prevent drownings center on the fact that swimming pools simply don't only have rectangular shapes anymore, but rather, more free-form shapes—thus increasing the likelihood for blind spots in pools.

When building a new facility, pool operators should bear in mind the shape of the pool, and not have to find out until it's too late that there are obstructions, experts say.

Sackett suggests that facilities "Work collaboratively with water safety experts and have an understanding on how to properly supervise from a lifeguard standpoint."

Then there's the importance of glare, too.

While natatoriums might have beautiful light, for lifeguards it can be a nightmare when there's glare on the water's surface. So, the basic concept is to address the potential for glare and compensate for that.

"Every area of supervision can be adequately seen in an appropriate amount of time, every facility and staffing plan. And, staff has the zones of coverage so the guard has the ability to reach a person in distress. That's built into the code," Sackett explained.

"There is a significant amount of pools out there that don't have guards. For new construction, anything over five feet needs a lifeguard," he said.

The new code covers drowning prevention in a multitude of ways.

For instance, "We have required that if someone is going to build a facility, [they should have a consult] and have an aquatics expert on board," Sackett said.