Follow the Rules

A Regulatory Update

By Rick Dandes


Mandates enacted by Congress to open up jobs, as well as access to public accommodations and transportation to the disabled, have been on the books since the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But it wasn't until recently that swimming pools and recreational facilities came under ADA scrutiny.

In 2010, the Department of Justice published updated ADA regulations that, for the first time, contained specific accessibility requirements for a number of types of recreational facilities, including swimming pools, wading pools and spas. Then, two years after that, DOJ again revised ADA, explained Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the nonprofit National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) based in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Now," he explained, "ADA would apply to all public swimming pools, hotels, motels, health clubs, recreation centers, public country clubs and businesses." It also would apply to community pools associated with private residential communities if the pool is made available to the public for rental or use.

The 2010 Standards require that newly constructed or altered swimming pools, wading pools and spas have an accessible way for people with disabilities to enter and exit the pool. For existing swimming pools built before the effective date of the new rule, the 2010 standards provide the guide for achieving accessibility.

The 2010 standards, for example, explained that large pools with 300 linear feet of pool wall or more must have two accessible means of entry and exit. One must be a fixed pool lift or sloped entry; the other entry can be a transfer wall, transfer system or pool stairs. Small pools (pools with less than 300 linear feet of pool wall) must provide at least one accessible means of entry and exit, which must be either a fixed pool lift or a sloped entry.

All that is well and good, said Lachocki, "but with implementation of the ADA, we are sometimes too focused on just accessibility. The intent of the ADA law and philosophy is much broader. The goal is to help more people live healthier and happier lives through aquatic activity. Healthier and happier living should not exclude those with disabilities."

So many aquatic facilities are "in the red" financially, Lachocki continued. Thus, aquatic facilities management should be evolving a broad spectrum of aquatic programs for children to seniors including learn-to-swim, swim teams, exercise programs and therapy.

"As the facility improves accessibility," he explained, "we should be adapting all our programming and further training staff to serve those with disabilities. When the facilities and staff are prepared, we should promote the programs through organizations that serve those with disabilities so we can attract more people, create value for them, and thus, earn revenue to make the facility more financially sustainable. After all, access is just the first step to having more people benefiting from aquatic activity."

The challenge associated with expanding programming to those with disabilities is that there are a spectrum of disabilities and, thus, numerous options on how best to accommodate those with disabilities into current programs.

To help assist facility management, Lachocki said, the NSPF will be making all prior World Aquatic Health Conference seminars available for free. "Facility management should focus on seminars in the 'health benefit' tracks since they often address specific disabilities," he said.

The Aquatic Training & Rehab Institute (ATRI) and the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) also have training programs available to help better serve those with disabilities. To view prior World Aquatic Health Conference seminars, visit

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act

A lesser known but equally important federal regulation, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, regulates submerged suction outlet fittings—main drain covers, fasteners and sumps—which must be tested and certified. The law takes its name from Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old girl who drowned in 2002 after she was trapped under water by the powerful suction from a hot tub drain.

"The pools I see are generally in compliance because they are high-profile public pools at hotels and parks," said Steve Barnes, safety and compliance manager for a manufacturer of aquatic equipment, including VGB-compliant drains and covers. "Apartments, homeowner associations and condo pools continue to be a concern, especially in areas of the country without strong local government oversight."

There is a possible compliance issue relating to the age of VGB-compliant covers, which are required to include a life expectancy in years shown on the cover, added M. Troy McGinty and Mike Huppert, both product managers with a commercial pool manufacturer in Rockville, Md. Many suction outlet fitting covers have a five-year lifespan, with some shorter and some longer; next summer is the five-year mark since most pools went through the initial upgrade process, meaning these covers are due to expire.

Damaged covers with cracked or broken ribs visible from the surface of the water present another issue. Less frequently seen are improperly installed VGB covers with rusting screws, missing screws and even screws in the wrong place.

In all cases these issues need to be addressed for the facility to be in compliance, Barnes said.

Crafting a 'Model' Code for Future Generations

In the United States, there is no federal regulatory authority responsible for aquatic facilities such as swimming pools and waterparks; all pool codes are developed, reviewed and approved by state and local public health officials.

"As a result, there are no uniform, national standards governing the design, construction, operation and maintenance of swimming pools and other treated aquatic facilities," explained Michael J. Beach, associate director for Healthy Water, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

The continued reporting of recreational water illness outbreaks, chemical injuries and drowning events led Beach, a group of public health, industry and academic experts to meet in 2005 about the issue. That group recommended that CDC spearhead an effort to create a federal model code that state and local health departments could use to update their own codes.

What came out of those meetings was a plan to create a Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), with a goal of improving health and safety at swimming venues around the country.

The effort to create the MAHC has been data- or best practices-driven and knowledge-based. "Our belief is that this effort will help improve overall design, operation, and maintenance of aquatic facilities leading to improved swimmer health and safety," Beach said.

When state or local health departments voluntarily adopt the MAHC, it will simplify design and construction, improve water and indoor air quality and bather hygiene, and ensure that personnel are trained appropriately, suggested Ron George, aquatics division manager for a manufacturer of UV treatment systems in Wisconsin.

"The document provides managers with operational and safety guidelines to protect the health and safety of their patrons and their staff," George added. "Managing risk and maintaining the healthy operation of the facility are paramount concerns of pool managers. Many states today do not require educated operators. How can they be expected to minimize risk? Patrons use their facility because they believe it is safe for themselves and their families. For private venues, this can mean the difference of whether patrons return to use their facility or not."

Following the recommendations in the MAHC should translate to fewer pools being closed during inspection, fewer disease outbreaks and reduced swimmer and staff injuries. That is good for pool managers, good for public health officials, and good for swimmers.

Fourteen modules, all developed by Beach and his technical committees, have now been posted for 60-day public comment. These modules are currently being revised based on public comment, and the steering committee is simultaneously integrating all modules into a single document. That document will again be posted for public comment in early 2014.

"We will then revise again based on public comment and post the first edition of the MAHC in summer 2014," Beach said. People can get a jump on the public comment period by looking at what has been done during the module revision since CDC has posted eight revised modules on the MAHC website:

Although they are not open for comment until they are integrated into a single document, readers can see what the revised wording looks like. So far, the MAHC overseer group has accepted about 75 percent of public comments.

The beauty of the MAHC, Beach explained excitedly, "is that we have intended, since inception, that it will be revised and renewed on a regular basis. We are in the process of setting up a standalone organization for the purpose of managing the MAHC: CDC will still be heavily involved in the science-based aspects of the MAHC."

Interested parties will be allowed to submit requests to change the MAHC along with supporting data. A process will be in place to vote on whether the data supports making the change. This should keep the code up to date with the latest aquatics trends, technology and new products, and save resources that state and local health departments expend on revising individual codes. "This effort," Beach said, "should lead to less illness and injury and an improved swimming experience for the public."

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