Tim Bobko

Six years ago, I started out as a pool operator. I took over an outdoor, seasonal community pool, and spent several summers running chemicals around and fighting to keep chlorine in a pool in 100-degree weather.

I wore the stains and holes in my clothing with pride. The way I saw it, only real career professionals have chlorine stains, which quickly develop into holes, in all their pants legs. Blue shirts actually turn a lovely pink when hit with chlorine sprays. My clothes proclaimed to the world that I was a pool operator, dealing with serious equipment and serious chemicals.

It wasn’t until I was training my staff that I realized what an idiot I had been.

Splashes on clothes could just as easily have been splashes in my face. Acid in your eyes is not inconvenient — it is permanent. Stains on my clothes did proclaim that I’m a pool operator, but I’ve realized that it meant I was a bad pool operator. Every stain was proof to a staff member that I did not practice what I preach, and it is a very short leap to them doing the same.

When training staff, I now include a list of personal protective equipment that’s necessary for every task. More importantly, I share the “why” of what we do. I explain the importance of what we’re doing, walking staff members through the big picture and process before we even begin to put on the boots and gloves.

Yes, it takes more time, but an operator who understands how the many parts work together can troubleshoot better. He or she is better prepared to keep things working correctly and can keep themselves and others safe.

So I bought new pants, threw away my stained shirts, and promised to try to never announce that I am a pool operator just by my clothing. My staff will see me doing what I expect them to do: Keep us all safe and chemical free.

The Lessons

1. Practice what you preach. Your staff will remember what you do. Wear proper personal protective equipment all the time, every time.

2. Chemicals are unforgiving. Experience is no excuse for being sloppy or taking shortcuts. Too much is at risk. Make safety a habit.

3. Explain the “why.” Start with why we do what we do — and why it matters — before moving on to how we do it. They'll believe what you believe. Keep them safe!