Setting A Gold Safety Standard

At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Team USA Swimming won 31 medals, 12 of which were gold and 11 more total medals than the second closest country. What made the team great? Although swimming is an individual sport, it took all members of the team to do their best in order to achieve excellence. Much like Team USA, pool operators and the environmental health professionals that inspect pools need to work together to ensure that pools and related products and equipment are working properly.

A Timely TopicOne of the many positives that emerged from Team USA Swimming’s monumental success was an increased interest in swimming nationwide with more and more families visiting their local community pool. In late 2008, USA Swimming–the national sanctioning body for the sport–predicted that it would enjoy its largest-single year membership boost. While this increase in attendance is great news for local and community pools, it also highlights the importance of providing a safe environment for patrons to enjoy recreational water activities.

In addition, recreational water-facility safety has become a hot-button issue. Since the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was signed into law in December 2008, pool operators have focused much of their efforts to ensure they are in compliance with the new law. Designed to prevent death or serious injury from drain entrapments in pools and spas, the law was named after Virginia Graeme Baker, the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State, Jim Baker. She drowned in 2002 after being trapped by the suction force of a pool drain.

However, in addition to the importance of following the guidelines mandated by the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, pool operators cannot ignore the dangers that exist from recreational water illnesses (RWIs). These illnesses are second only to personal safety (slipping, falling, drowning, etc.) among patron’s water-related safety concerns.

Survey Highlights Safety Issues

A recent survey of environmental health professionals conducted by NSF International and PPG Industries has shed light on some of the most common health-code violations these individuals come across during annual or semi-annual recreational water-facility inspections. The survey found that 92 percent of inspectors or their colleagues have shut down a recreational water facility in the past three years. While the shutdowns were mostly temporary, the vast majority (85 percent) of the inspectors cited poor water quality/clarity as the reason.

The survey also revealed some of the common issues and obstacles facing environmental health professionals as they conduct inspections. Pool operators and owners who understand these issues and make plans to alleviate them will be helping not only the inspectors, but their own facility and most importantly their customers.

Inspectors Wearing Multiple Hats

According to the survey, 98 percent of the inspectors indicated that, in addition to inspecting recreational water facilities, they also are responsible for inspecting restaurants, schools, daycare centers, campgrounds and wastewater treatment plants.Therefore, the time that they have to conduct inspections is limited, and is probably going to be reduced even further because of recent recessionary budget cuts.

When it comes to community pools, the survey indicated that 42 percent of these facilities were inspected once per year or less.With a limited number of inspections, the responsibility falls on pool operators and owners to understand local codes and requirements for recreational water quality. Furthermore, with fewer inspections, it is in the best interest of pool operators to have key staff educated as to the requirements of their local government, and also to understand any manufacturer requirements for maintaining pumps, filters, chlorination equipment and associated products.

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