Developing Standards For Public Pools

Have you ever felt a degree of panic in wondering whether a pool was in compliance with the requirements of the public health code? Or how about conducting repairs or a renovation only to find the job does not comply with the governing health code?

This has been the case for many pool operators in trying to comply with a myriad of issues, including the drain-entrapment requirements in the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

Currently, all public swimming pool codes are developed and approved by state and/or local public-health officials or building departments. Conditions that are allowed in one county may be outlawed in an adjoining county. There are some areas in the United States where there are no codes or standards for public swimming pools at all.

As a result, there are no uniform or national code standards for the construction, renovation, or operation of a public swimming pool or spa.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has conducted several studies regarding the safety and reliability in maintaining and operating public pools. According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on May 21, 2010, the agency reviewed 121,020 health department public pool inspection reports from 15 state and local agencies in 2008. Of those inspections, 73,953 (61.1 percent) identified one or more code violations, with 13,532 of the inspections (12.1 percent) resulting in immediate closures of the pool(s).

Based on those studies, the CDC concluded that a comprehensive, uniform national standard for public swimming pools could help prevent disease and injuries, and promote healthy recreational experiences. Thus, the concept of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) was created.

Defining The Code

The MAHC is intended to be a user-friendly, knowledge-based, and scientifically supported uniform standard for recreational water venues that can be adopted and ratified for any facility. The code can transform various regulations used by health and building departments across the U.S. into a uniform set of state and local codes.

The MAHC has set up 12 technical subcommittees covering all facets of recreational water systems as they pertain to health and safety. Once the code has been completed, the hope is that it will be updated every two years to allow it to respond to new science and engineering, industry developments, or new standards of practice.

To make it easy to use, the code is configured using two or three keywords in the left margins. The right margins contain a grading system divided into three levels:

• Grade A–A practice supported by science/research/data

• Grade B–A widely accepted practice not supported by science/research/data

• Grade C–Neither an industry standard yet nor one supported by science/research/ data.

This grading is intended to explain to pool operators and inspectors the basis for each section. The MAHC also has an annex to support each section that provides details, studies, and data used to compile the information. Once a section has been drafted, it is posted on a CDC website for public review and comment for 60 days. All comments are considered in the final draft version of each module.

Start To Finish

Let’s consider the first section to be drafted and posted–the Operator Training Section.

Completed in the third quarter of 2010, the MAHC Module 6.1 Operator Training was presented at the World Aquatic Health Conference in Colorado Springs in October 2010 for public review and comment. The Operator Training technical subcommittee (OT) consists of 12 members representing the major operator-training programs in the U.S., as well as health department inspectors and public pool operators.

At the onset, the OT identified five goals for this module, including:

• Collect any research currently available on the efficacy of formal pool-operator training and public pool operation.

• Utilize the experience of the members to understand pool-operator training best practices.

• Identify key drivers of public pool-operator training.

• Identify and research other industries with parallel systems.

• Review existing public pool health codes and the requirements for formal operator training.

While the research was conducted, two studies concluded that public swimming pools that are operated with formally trained operators have overall better water quality than pools without them. A study in Nebraska found that both free chlorine and pH violations were twice as likely to occur in public swimming pools not requiring a certified operator.

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