I make mistakes. I’m not being humble. It’s just a fact. Every issue of Aquatics International contains untold numbers of names and facts. As the editor of this magazine, it’s my job to make sure that everything you read is accurate. I take it very seriously.
That’s why I have help, lots of it, from my senior editor (Kendra Kozen, whom many of you have yet to meet) and my copy editor (Linda G. Green, who works tirelessly behind the scenes). In fact, everything goes through at least three rounds of multiple eyeballs looking over the words on these pages to ensure they are correct.
If we do make a mistake —and, sometimes, we do — it’s bad. But no one gets hurt. No one dies.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of aquatics operations. When mistakes are made at the pool, guests can become infected with RWIs. People can drown. And every year they do.
So who’s watching over the shoulder of operators to make sure these mistakes don’t happen?
As our special report, “ Uninspected Consequences ,” so vividly and frighteningly shows, the answer in too many places is no one. The people who should be doing it, health inspectors, are too busy, too poorly funded or too distracted.
And mistakes happen. Big ones. Such as water rides falling apart while people are riding them. Or pools becoming so turbid, guests can’t see the bottom.
It’s easy enough for trained operators to make mistakes. Pools and waterparks are complex systems, after all. But many facilities aren’t even run by such professionals. At these places — often hotels and apartments — it’s common for the maintenance staff or janitor to run the pool.
The industry needs better oversight. Yet too many operators look upon health departments as the enemy.
That’s partly due to the problems our report points out: Health inspectors are ill-trained. At a recent conference, one aquatics professional drew gasps when he told about an inspector who insisted a facility needed more chlorine because he couldn’t smell it. Misunderstanding such basic water chemistry does not engender respect. At the same time, the codes that inspectors are supposed to enforce are inadequate or simply untenable.
Both problems must be fixed, and it needs to start at the facility level. Operators may not be able to increase funding for health inspectors, but they can forge relationships with their local inspectors. They can let their bosses know how important that relationship is to patron health and safety, and urge them to fund those departments appropriately. They can even offer to help train them.
Meanwhile, the entire industry should lend its support to the Model Aquatic Health Code that’s being created under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such a code would finally bring together the ragtag set of standards throughout the nation into one unified set of codes that is grounded in science and best practices.
But even the best operator with the best code can make mistakes. For aquatics to truly grow in a healthy way, such an effort must be coupled with a renewed appreciation and respect for health departments, and the acceptance that even the best of us need someone to watch our back.