• ON GUARD The American Red Cross recently introduced several online initiatives to ensure education hasn't lapsed between seasons. Managers can get timely information at instructorscorner.org, and staff can stay current at redcrossrefresher.com.

    Credit: Emily Plurkowski

    ON GUARD The American Red Cross recently introduced several online initiatives to ensure education hasn't lapsed between seasons. Managers can get timely information at instructorscorner.org, and staff can stay current at redcrossrefresher.com.
  • UNDERWATER HOCKEY Hand-eye coordination and strong lung capacity will go a long way in this emerging sport thats played below the surface. USA Underwater Hockey recognizes more than 50 official teams.

    Credit: Brian Cripe

    UNDERWATER HOCKEY Hand-eye coordination and strong lung capacity will go a long way in this emerging sport that’s played below the surface. USA Underwater Hockey recognizes more than 50 official teams.

Preparing a pool for the summer can sometimes feel like it's simply a matter of checking off a list of to-dos. You could almost do it on autopilot.

Not this year.

A confluence of factors make summer 2014 trickier than seasons past. With drain covers expiring, lifeguards recertifying and new chemical storage requirements, the checklist just got longer.

There are also several emerging trends in programming (hydrocycling, anyone?), so consider refreshing your slate of activities.

In consultation with experts around the country, Aquatics International put together a road map to guide you through everything new in the season ahead.

Happy swimming!

Get Your Guard Up

Hire learning: Long before you’ve taken the cover off the pool, you’ve likely been putting out the call for qualified lifeguards, perhaps contacting staffers from summers past to see if they’ll be coming on board again this year. That’s smart. Why retrain a bunch of fresh-faced recruits when you have seasoned workers at the ready?

Quick reminder: Those who were certified in 2012 will need to recertify this year.

Wait … already?

Yes. Prior to 2012, lifeguard certifications through the American Red Cross were valid for three years. Now they’re good for two.

The good news: The American Red Cross rolled out a new online resource to keep your guards’ skills sharp between certifications. Those with soon-to-expire credentials can go to redcrossrefresher.com to brush up on CPR, first-aid and water rescue techniques.

Likewise, managers have access to digital training programs through the Red Cross. Successful completion of its online management course earns a two-year certification.

Another new website you might want to bookmark is instructorscorner.org. This is where Red Cross instructors can stay abreast of course updates, access teaching materials and learn the latest in lifesaving sciences.

Curbing costs: When the Red Cross revamped its lifeguarding program two years ago, truncated certifications weren’t the only thing that threw some operators for a loop. The organization also hiked the certification fee to $35 (recertification, $27). Some operators claim they were paying as little as $7.

“It’s an expense either a company is going to have to bear, or they’ll push it on to the young person,” says Mitchell Friedlander, CEO of American Pool Enterprises in Baltimore. “It makes for a tough situation.”

American Pool Enterprises aims to remove financial barriers for young job seekers interested in careers in aquatics. The Baltimore firm, through its Guard for Life program, is the nation’s largest provider of Red Cross lifeguard training, equipping more than 6,000 teens and young adults with lifesaving skills each season. The ones the company hires will be at least partially reimbursed for the course and certification fee.

If you can afford to absorb the cost, be sure to pencil it into your budget.

Pool Rules

Time’s up: It’s been over five years since the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act set the deadline for commercial pools to have certified suction outlet covers installed to meet anti-entrapment safety standards. You did your due diligence and complied with the federal law. But those covers have a limited life span, ranging between three and seven years.

There’s a good chance your drain cover is due for replacement.

How can you find out? Hopefully, the service company you hired to change out the cover in 2008 has records on file indicating the make and model of the cover, stated life span, and installation date. In fact, you may have already received a friendly reminder from a proactive pool professional.

“One of the most popular drain covers is coming up as a five-year [model]. Any of our clients that have that one, we’ve let them know that, ‘Hey, this year your drain cover will be expiring,’” says Trevor Sherwood, owner Brick, N.J.-based Pool Operation Management.

Don’t put it off for another season. VGBA is a federal law for a reason.

Assessing accessibility: The Americans with Disabilities Act ruled last year that most public and commercial pools require chairlifts to ease less-able-bodied swimmers into the water.

The law is well-intended, but it doesn’t have teeth. That’s why compliance at commercial facilities is spotty.

“I think people have been slow to react to it,” says American Pool Enterprises’ Friedlander. In his travels he’s noticed that lift-equipped pools at hotels are far and few between.

Now that we’re entering our second season of swimming since the law passed, Friedlander predicts inspectors are going to step up enforcement. “This is the year,” he warns.

If that’s not enough to motivate you, keep this in mind: There have been several high-profile lawsuits against facilities that didn’t comply. You want to make headlines because your pool is a summer hotspot, not because you’re unaccommodating.

AED demand: Automatic external defibrillators are mandatory in Maryland. Last year, the Old Line State passed Connor’s Law. Named after a 5-year-old boy who died because lifeguards didn’t know how to operate the device, the statute requires that all public pools be equipped with AEDs. Several counties have taken it further, stipulating that the law also applies to semiprivate pools.

But an AED is a must-have lifesaving tool no matter where your pool is located. Recognizing this, the American Red Cross has made defibrillators part of its lifeguard training program.

So if your staff knows how to use one, why not have one? Keeping a unit on site could mean the difference between life and death.

AEDs can be subject to routine inspection and maintenance. Be sure to check which state and local laws apply.

Label lingo: You were supposed to have trained your staff on OSHA’s newly revised Hazard Communication Standard by now. In fact, the deadline to have employees up to speed on chemical label changes was December 2013, but that was the offseason, so maybe you’ll get a pass.

Here’s what you need to know: The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is requiring chemical manufacturers to use new label elements, such as pictograms, signal words and hazard statements, on their products.

Workers who routinely handle chemicals (that’d be pool folks) need to be aware of the changes to better protect themselves from accidents.

According to OSHA, employers need to explain …

How the information on the label can be used to ensure proper storage of hazardous chemicals

How to use the label to quickly find information on first aid

How the elements work together on a label. For example, where a chemical poses multiple hazards, different pictograms will illustrate each hazard (flame = flammable chemical; poisoned silhouette = carcinogen; exclamation mark = skin irritant; and so forth.)

OSHA also made changes to its standard Safety Data Sheets, which includes information on exposure limits and personal protective equipment.

As of June 1, 2015, manufacturers must meet the new requirements, though some have already begun slapping the new labels on products. That’s why OSHA urges training now.

For training resources, visit osha.gov/dsg/safer_chemicals/index.html.

Amp Up Your Programming

Spin splash: Is attendance stagnant? Consider offering an exciting new program, such as hydrocycling, to get folks back in the water.

It’s spin class with an aquatic twist. Participants peddle on underwater stationary bikes to an instructor’s commands: Peddle faster! Stand up! Lean forward!

The low-impact exercise draws an elderly crowd during the day. In the evening, it’s 20- and 30-somethings who line up to claim a bike, eager to get in on the fitness craze. It’s rare for a pool program to attract such a broad spectrum of participants, says Nikki Sarrette, aquatics supervisor at the city of El Paso Parks and Recreation.

The city’s Armijo Pool introduced hydrocycling last year, at first only offering one class to test the waters, so to speak. Demand was immediate. The program now offers 10 classes a week.

Three lanes are reserved to accommodate 11 bikes. (That’s 10 students, one instructor.) Each bike is spaced comfortably apart, allowing for exercises beyond cycling. Spinning alone burns 800 to 900 calories an hour. Throw in some squats and flutter kicks and you’ve got a killer workout.

“It’s really opened up the doors for imagination,” Sarrette says. “It really gets our instructors engaged.”

But fads tend to fade. That’s why Sarrette suggests keeping things fresh by changing up the routine. She’s had success building entire events around the bikes, such as triathlons. That’s 20 to 30 minutes on the bike, 20 minutes of aquajogging and 20 minutes of swimming.

“We have a lot of triathletes in the area, so why not do something for them?” Sarrette says.

The bikes suction to the bottom of the pool, preventing damage to the floor. They’re easy to take in and out of the water, and take up very little deck space.

Splash shot: Underwater hockey. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Two teams face off to slap a puck across the pool’s floor. According to USA Underwater Hockey, more than 1,000 people (that’s 50 teams) play the sport.

Dozens of facilities across the United States host these games. USAUWH assures facility managers that the puck, and the short stick they smack it with, cause zero damage to the pool.

Last year, the USA Men’s Elite Team took ninth place in the world championships (yes, there is such a thing) in Hungary.

A caveat: No need for spectator seating. The action takes place six to eight feet below the surface.