Have you ever thought twice about eating at a restaurant that received a “C” from a public health inspector?
Imagine if similar standards applied to swimming pools.
Toronto is doing just that. Called SwimSafe, the public health program requires the city's 1,700 municipal and privately-owned commercial pools to disclose inspection results by displaying color-coded placards in conspicuous locations, such as doors leading to a pool from changing rooms. This way, guests can see if the facility meets Ontario’s minimum safety standards before risking a dip.
The city's public health department has been publishing inspection outcomes online since October of 2014, but it raised the stakes when it implemented the sign-hanging policy last November.
For operators opening outdoor pools this summer, this will be their first time dealing with the new rating system.
Here’s how it works:
A green “pass” means the facility is in compliance with regulations, but may include infractions that have no health or safety consequences (i.e. poor record keeping.)
A yellow “conditional pass” is issued to a facility that is cited with minor safety problems that must be corrected within 24 to 48 hours.
A red “closed” inspection notice means that patrons are prohibited from using the facility due to imminent health hazards.
The city inspects indoor pools and spas four times a year and outdoor pools twice a season.
The safety measure is patterned on the city's DineSafe program, which utilizes a similar color-coded system to hold restaurateurs' feet to the fire, so to speak.
Prior to implementing DineSafe in 2001, only about half of the city’s eateries passed inspections. Now some 93 percent are in compliance, said Mahesh Patel, Toronto Public Health’s manager of Healthy Environments.
“We want to make sure we have equally good compliance with our swimming pools and [spas]," Patel said.
Aquatics operators feel the program has merit, though they do have some concerns. As Howie Kirshenbaum points out, not all inspectors are created equal. He doesn't want to see a facility receive the dreaded red fail placard because the inspector was overzealous.
"I like it, provided that it's managed in a manner that's fair and consistent throughout," said Kirshenbaum, a partner at Superior Pool Spa & Leisure Ltd., a firm that manages pools throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
Could a policy like this catch on in the U.S.?
Patel said that several California health agencies are developing their own versions of DineSafe, so it could be that they will eventually consider enforcing a similar rule at pools.
"They'll probably be very interested in something like this and they'll ask us for all the information," Patel said.