Feature Article - January 2016
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Safe in the Water

Programs, Audits Are Key to Enhancing Aquatic Safety

By Deborah L. Vence


Back in August 2014, the first edition of a special guidance document, called the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), was released to give U.S. recreation facilities and spas a resource to improve their existing pool codes.

In recent months, there have been 159 change requests submitted for the MAHC, with 15 percent being editorial, 52 percent non-controversial and 33 percent categorized as major change or impact, said Doug Sackett, executive director of the Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC).

Through adoption of the MAHC, a uniform model code, inconsistencies across jurisdictions around the country can be reduced, making it easier to do business.

For example, one of those change requests, under the major change/impact category, Sackett noted, proposes to change the design section (Section requirement for diving board stands and platforms 2 meters or higher, to require stairs (vs. ladders) for diving board stands/platforms 1 meter or higher. The rationale addresses injury data from falls from diving boards and ladders.

Sackett added that he does not know what the results of the member voting will be because there are differences of member opinion on each.

Currently, all pool codes are written and enforced by state and local agencies independently. Jurisdictions can use the MAHC to update or implement codes, rules, regulations, guidance, laws or standards governing swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and other public, treated, recreational water venues to reduce infectious disease outbreaks, drowning and chemical injuries.

So far, Sackett said that states must review head-to-head and fit into regulatory or legislative process and timeframe so adoption can take one to two years.

"Twenty-three state and local jurisdictions are comparing the MAHC to their existing code or moving ahead on potential adoption (e.g., New Mexico, Indiana)," he said, adding that the CDC has conducted four head-to-head comparisons of the MAHC to state code.

What more needs to be done?

"We must overcome the tendency to only react or continually tweak the MAHC without a long-range goal to improve the overall system," Sackett said. "We should be planning where the entire system should be moving and incrementally submit change requests and research data to get us there (e.g., filtration and recirculation, air handling, advanced water treatment)."

He also said that CMAHC needs to have a proactive strategy in order to advance the MAHC vs. just finessing the wording. "The CMAHC needs to continue efforts to promote awareness of the MAHC throughout the aquatics industry," he said, such as working with the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), World Waterpark Association (WWA), National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and others.

The idea behind this is to discuss how the MAHC, through its science-based, data-driven, risk management approach, helps make pools healthier and safer.

Secondly, through adoption of the MAHC, a uniform model code, inconsistencies across jurisdictions around the country can be reduced, making it easier to do business. Third, the financial and resource burden on state and local health departments to develop or update their codes can be greatly reduced, Sackett explained.

Griffiths believes the MAHC will continue to have a positive effect on the industry. The fact that the code is so comprehensive, involved so many professionals, and updates and renews every two years is "huge." "Aquatics people need to read the MAHC and research the MAHC. It is a wonderful and exciting resource for us all. It's an encyclopedia of swimming pool standards that actually educates the reader," he said. "Even if a state or region does not adopt the MAHC, or portions of it, those working at pools need to know what is in there. I can tell you attorneys are quickly going to learn about the MAHC."