Operators are the heart of any aquatics facility. Through their staffing decisions, training procedures and management priorities, they determine the safety, security and quality of the facility and patrons’ aquatic experiences.

Yet at many facilities, operators don’t need to have certification credentials or training, despite several studies that suggest such training leads to healthier facilities — and patrons.

The Model Aquatic Health Code’s Operator Training module aims to change that. The MAHC Module 6.1 Operator Training was completed in the 2010 third quarter. It has been posted to the Website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for public review and comment. Once comments have been received, they will be considered in the final form for the first version of MAHC.

Before I explain what we’re recommending, let me tell you a little bit about the process: The Operator Training Technical Committee consists of 12 members representing all facets of pool operating conditions and operator training. The OT Committee is composed of representatives of the major operator training programs in the United States, as well as health department inspectors and public pool operators. At the onset, the committee identified five goals for this module:

  • Collect any research that is currently available on the efficacy of formal pool operator training and public pool operation.
  • Utilize the wide experience of the committee 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 their requirements for formal operator training.

During our research, we found two studies which concluded that public swimming pools run with formally trained operators have overall better water quality than pools without them. A study in Nebraska found that free chlorine and pH violations were twice as likely to occur in public pools not requiring certified operators.

Our research also found parallels between public pool operation and public restaurant operations as they pertain to public health. The OT Committee then researched the public restaurant training and certification requirements. Based on this research, the committee concluded there is sufficient documentation that a public pool is statistically safer when it is operated by, or its operation is reviewed by, a trained and certified operator.

Therefore, it was a logical conclusion that it's in the best interest of the public and the aquatics industry to require a qualified operator for every public aquatics facility.

In some facilities, such as waterparks and large venues, it may be determined that a certified operator should be on site any time the pool is open for use. In other venues, such as apartment complexes and

motels, a certified operator should periodically review the operation and be available on call any time a public venue is open for use. In this later case, the certified operator may be an independent contractor, such as a pool service firm.

MAHC Section 6.1.1 identifies the requirement for a certified operator. The annex for this section reviewed various areas of discussion such as cognitive vs. core skill training requirements, electronic Web-based training vs. on-site training, and acceptable means for assessing an operator’s competency. Certified operators must have successfully completed a recognized certified operator course, passed the exam and hold an active certification. That certification must be available and on premises for any inspecting agency. We felt strongly that operators also should be able to demonstrate skills such as water testing. However, we ultimately felt those requirements would best be covered by another technical committee.

MAHC Section 6.1.2 identifies the minimum essential topics a certified operator training course must include. Courses must cover water disinfection, water chemistry, mechanical, health and safety, and operations.

The Operator Training module in sections 6.1.3 to 6.1.13 identifies other general course requirements and certification requirements. Those requirements are quite detailed. Here’s a brief summary of them: Training agencies must be able to demonstrate their ability to develop and offer a course. To do so, they will identify course content, length (must be at least 16 hours) and instructor qualification. Exam administration policies and procedures need to maintain the integrity of that class online and in person. Certificate procedures must be shown along with the certification process. Certificates will not be valid for more than five years. The certifying agency should have the ability to revoke a certification it has issued, if warranted. Finally, continuing education that leads to recertification must be offered. Another agency will determine how often continuing education is required.

The full details and actual language of the OT module for the MAHC are available for review and comment at the CDC’s Website at cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc. 

Remember, MAHC affects everyone in aquatics, and it’s in your best interests to make your voice heard. So I urge you to take a look at the full OT module and send us your feedback.