As a health inspector, I come at the issue of pool operations from a different perspective than many other aquatics professionals. Some operators may view me as the “bad cop,” someone who makes doing their jobs that much harder.
That’s unfortunate because public pool regulation is an increasing challenge. There’s less money and manpower to inspect pools nationwide. As a result, operators have less oversight from regulatory agencies — and increased liability. So it’s more important than ever that health inspectors and pool operators work together to ensure safe, healthy pools for the swimming public.
Here are some suggestions on how both sides — regulatory agencies and aquatics facilities — can work toward that goal.
1.Support and help create a coalition to develop a national pool code.
Work is in progress right now on this project through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It needs your support.
Similar efforts over the past several decades have produced a strong Food and Drug Administration Food Code that is used by most U.S. jurisdictions and industries for guidance and regulation of food establishments.
A council of representatives from regulatory agencies around the country, as well as many industry representatives, support the Model Aquatic Health Code. Now is the time to get involved and make your voice be heard. Go to http://www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/ for more information.
2.Work with health department officials to improve regulations governing your operation.
Most states have to play catch-up with rules and regulations continuously just to stay modestly up to date with developments in the aquatics industry. Everything from new pool designs, changes in water use, new equipment, new sanitizers and feed systems to new electronic lifeguarding/surveillance technologies need to be addressed. Take a look at existing codes and if they don’t make sense for the way you operate today, contact local health officials and work out a plan of action to change the code(s).
3. Do what you can to get good, clear guidelines into the local regulations for pool closure criteria and enforcement.
Many rules are not clear about when to close the pool, or they do not have adequate enforcement authority to back them up. This does not necessarily mean that regulatory officials need to use them aggressively. The best use of closure criteria is to give guidance to pool operators. Waiting for that health inspector to come out and “apprehend” you is an exercise in liability exposure. It will catch up with you.
During my inspections, I’ve noted that well-trained “pool police” would more likely have to close about 50 percent of the pools inspected. That’s much higher than the approximately 10 percent reported during the CDC inspection study. Of course, inspectors would rather help you run a quality pool operation than close you down. However, we should be able to use that closure authority when necessary.
4.Support required pool operator training.
Coupled with operator training is the training of health inspectors to at least the same level or higher as pool operators.
This training is vital to good pool operation and the development of a professional pool operator work force.
During a survey of pool operators in a region of our state a few years ago, we found the average tenure of an operator is less than three months. A follow-up survey statewide showed the average tenure is only about a year. Without prior training, how can these operators run safe and healthy pools? How can a health inspector who has not had the chance to operate a pool become a proficient technical resource? The answer to these problems? Require training and certification programs for pool operators and health inspection staff.
Some organizations and states have addressed these training issues, but many states have not. They need strong support from the health departments and the aquatics industry to make these changes happen.