Pool service techs have a vital role in drowning prevention at commercial swimming pools
By Michelle L. Cramer
When it comes to commercial swimming pools, the service tech is one of many layers of protection in and around the pool, says Katie Crysdale, principal of Lakeview Aquatic Consultants, Ltd., in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
While some larger commercial pools have lifeguards during swim times, most are not trained to thoroughly examine potential dangers, and many indoor hotel pools or pools at apartment complexes go without daily regulation. It’s the pool pro’s job to examine the following items at every service call.
Pool Access and Visibility
“Access to a pool should always be restricted,” Crysdale says. “We often talk about self-latching gates to backyard pools, but what about the door arm or locking mechanism of an indoor pool? They do wear out and need to be greased or replaced due to high humidity and frequent use.” Pool pros should always check these access points with each service call.
If the pool is outdoors and has a cover, service techs needs to check that too, Crysdale says, suggesting techs poke a mesh cover with the pole to make sure it’s not loose, because anchors and screws often give way before the cover’s expiration date.
Many jurisdictions require public pools be approved for night swimming, says Rudy Stankowitz, CEO and president of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants in Archer, Florida. “To meet these requirements, a qualified individual must measure the actual lumens of light available,” he says. Alternatively, some facilities may not be approved for night swimming. “In Florida, if the swimming pool has not been approved for night swimming by the building department, the pool may only be open from 30 minutes after sunrise to 30 minutes before sunset.”
Service techs should check the functionality of pool lights and, while the use regulations fall on the facility, Stankowitz says there is a meter available to measure lumens of light, should a pool pro want to offer it as an additional service.
Drains and Equipment
Pool service pros need to understand that the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, put in place to help prevent drowning due to entrapment, is not just about the size of the drain grate or the use of a safety vacuum release system, Stankowitz says. There are a lot of other important components to this law. He recommends checking the that the grate is installed correctly, that screws are not loose or stripped, and that there is a spring-loaded locking cover for the vacuum port.
It’s also imperative that safety pumps are installed and working properly. Stankowitz and Crysdale both recommend testing the emergency shutoff switch, vacuum release system or other secondary safety devices at least monthly.
Crysdale suggests a visual inspection of the drain cover utilizing a scuba mask to put their face in the water at deck level. She also recommends techs check that equipment hasn’t been stolen or vandalized due to more public exposure at a commercial pool, and that it’s not becoming rotten (indoor pool) or desiccated (outdoor pool) over time, ultimately making it ineffective for use in an emergency.
“A swimming pool should never be turbid enough that the water appears cloudy or milky,” Crysdale says, adding that the bottom of the pool should always be visible, which means “being able to clearly see drain covers and grout lines.”
Water chemistry is key, Stankowitz says. “Determining and maintaining water balance utilizing the Langelier Saturation Index on visits can aid in reducing turbidity due to chemistry issues. An LSI above +0.3 has the potential to cause cloudy water.”
Stankowitz also says the strict requirements of NSF International standards for swimming pool water clarity — which many state health departments have adopted as part of their public pool code — is 0.5 nephelometric turbidity units. “How is a service tech expected to gauge that accurately by eye?” Stankowitz asks. “Adding a tool such as a nephelometer to the pool tech’s tool kit provides an accurate means of [measuring NTUs] that eliminates differences in visual perception from the equation, as well as providing an actual number they can document.”
He cautions that a nephelometer is not a replacement technique, but an additional practice. “It would obviously not be of any benefit in measuring poor visibility due to surface turbulence.”
Rescue equipment makes Crysdale’s checklist for a pool service tech with commercial pools. Unfortunately, she says, rescue equipment is not as common as it should be. “If your company sells merchandise, consider stocking ring buoys, throw bags and rescue tubes [to offer customers on service calls],” she says. “It can be the difference between life or death in a drowning incident [with no lifeguard present] because many people are not strong enough swimmers to save themselves, never mind someone else.”
She also points out that service techs should double check that all toys are out of the pool when not in use. “An empty pool is a boring pool,” Crysdale says. “Children are easily attracted to toys and floaties that are often stored by leaving them in the pool. This may not feel like your job as the service technician, but what if you were the last person at the pool before a drowning?”
In addition to this general checklist of items, Stankowitz recommends going above and beyond every time a commercial pool is serviced. Check for any surface damage on and near the pool. Be sure that all slip-resistant surfaces are working. “A pool pro who maintains a swimming pool at a commercial facility should be well versed in state and local health and safety codes as a whole,” Stankowitz says. “Print it; read it. Work the inspection of these items into your service plan.” “Always keep your eyes peeled for what’s missing, out of place or different during your regular walk-arounds of a pool you service,” Crysdale says. “Perimeter markings, tripping hazards and slip hazards can all be evaluated instantly and addressed, providing value added to the customer as a service technician who cares about families that use the pool.”
Commercial Pool Checklist
- Gates, access doors and latches in working order
- Covers installed correctly, no holes, not loose
- All pool lights working and at correct lumens
- VGB compliant drain covers not broken or loose
- SVRS system working and spring-loaded locking cover for the port
- Safety pumps installed / working properly
- Emergency shutoff switch installed / working properly
- No stolen, vandalized or rotten/desiccated equipment
- Water is clear and meets NSF International standards
- All rescue equipment present and in good condition
- Toys and floats are out of the pool
- No surface damage on or near the pool
- Slip resistant surfaces are working
- Perimeter markings aren’t worn off
- Tripping and slip hazards are removed
- Pool meets all state and local health and safety codes