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Avoiding Pump Room Hazards

Pool professionals offer tips for proper pump room ventilation and safety

Numerous hazards lurk within the walls of the swimming pool pump room, toxic chemical fumes and carbon monoxide chief among them. In some commercial properties — apartment complexes, condominiums, hotels, country clubs and the like — the pump rooms are properly ventilated, but in far too many, this is not the case. The result is an unsafe work environment for pool maintenance technicians as well as premature wear on equipment.

What are the requirements for proper ventilation? Industry documents such as the Model Aquatic Health Code and the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code provide useful recommendations on minimum ventilation standards, as do agencies like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A rough guideline from these sources calls for 10 air changes per hour within the space, but more specific requirements will vary depending upon local building codes.

“In a perfect world, pump rooms should be comfortably sized to accommodate and access all pool equipment,” says Katie Crysdale, principal of Lakeview Aquatic Consultants, a Canadian consulting firm in the commercial aquatics industry. “In reality, this rarely happens. The key piece is that there should be negative airflow, so that the build-up of exhaust or fumes is vented outside.”

How can a service technician know a pump room is not well ventilated? Crysdale says to look at the infrastructure within the pump room. Prematurely corroded pipe brackets, for instance, point to the presence of unvented fumes. 

The strong odor of chlorine inside a pump room can also be an early warning. Rudy Stankowitz, president and CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants in Gainesville, Florida, notes that many service technicians, working constantly with the chemical, may be afflicted with olfactory fatigue — sometimes called “nose blindness” — that makes them no longer able to detect chlorine odors at the low levels others find repugnant. He recommends technicians be equipped with handheld air quality monitors, as most commercial pump rooms do not have devices to detect chlorine gas or carbon monoxide. 

A simple solution to a ventilation problem, Crysdale says, is installing vents in the exterior doors. For a temporary solution, prop the exterior door open while inside the space, being careful never to allow uncontrolled access to the mechanical room and closing the door when you leave. 

“The biggest thing I see overlooked is fresh air coming back into the space,” says David Penton, founder and CEO of Fluid Dynamics Pool and Spa in Fullerton, California. “It’s not just pushing the air out. There need to be allowances for fresh air coming back into the space as well, either through louvered doors or piping; simply installing an exhaust pipe and installing a discharge fan is not enough.” 

Penton adds that, even in the absence of heating equipment, a room with numerous pumps will create considerable heat, which should be accounted for. It is common, he says, for equipment from other trades to be in the pump room and the heat generated by these also needs to be taken into consideration.

If the space is within a vault, it needs to be evaluated based on OSHA requirements. At a minimum, Penton suggests signage at the entrance to the pump room indicating that access is restricted, as well as details on the hazards present in the room. An appropriate fire extinguisher is also a good idea, as is an eyewash station, if chemicals are present. He also suggests looking at the whole room for additional hazards beyond room ventilation, such as double containment of chemical tanks.

 If a pump room presents a significant risk to the safety of maintenance personnel, Penton says, more drastic action should be taken, with lock-out/tag-out being the most extreme, until changes are made. “The property management should be informed in writing with specific minimum recommendations for your own personal safety and the safety of your staff,” Penton adds. “Once these minimum safety standards are met, recommendations for ideal conditions should be evaluated based on the specific site conditions.”

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