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City of Toronto unveils public disclosure system for aquatic facilities

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When an imminent health and safety hazard is identified, the Health Protection and Promotion Act, under a section 13 order, enables the authorities to close a recreational aquatic facility.

Recreational water-related activities are an excellent source of physical activity and relaxation, and Toronto residents have access to more than 1700 facilities where they can swim, soak in a hot tub, or enjoy world-class beaches.

That said, pools, hot tubs, and natural bodies of water have health and safety risks that can lead to waterborne illnesses, physical injuries and, in some instances, drownings. Although drowning deaths are not unique to children, kids are at greater risk. In fact, according to the Red Cross, on average, 20 children drown each year in Ontario.

To mitigate the risk of injury and death, jurisdictions across Canada have passed regulatory legislation for public pools and hot tubs. In Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has enacted minimum standards in the form of regulations under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA). Public health inspectors (PHIs) enforce these regulations under the authority of the local medical officers of health (MOH). Toronto Public Health (TPH) delivers a comprehensive recreational water inspection program to protect the health and safety of residents.

Following the inspection of these facilities when deficiencies occur, written instructions are provided to the owner and/or facility operator outlining the actions that must be taken to correct any problems. PHIs then conduct re-inspections within 24 to 48 hours to verify the appropriate corrective action(s) have been taken.

When an imminent health and safety hazard is identified, the HPPA, under a Section 13 order, authorizes the closure of an aquatic facility. The order specifies the steps that must be taken before the establishment can be allowed to reopen.

Once all the specified conditions are met, as determined by a re-inspection, the closure order is lifted and the premises is monitored to ensure continued compliance.

Although the requirements of the regulations are intended to reduce the risk of injury and death, such risk cannot be eliminated entirely. That said, the level of compliance with regulation does play an integral role in risk reduction. Unannounced inspections of public pools and hot tubs aim to increase compliance with the regulation to the highest level possible.

In looking at the five-year percentage compliance rate, it is clearly evident that conformity, namely the percentage of satisfactory inspections where there have been no deficiencies, falls well below maximum compliance (see Table 1 below). It can be argued such a low average compliance with the minimum standards puts those who use aquatic facilities in Toronto at an increased risk of injury and/or death.

Table 1: Five-year percentage compliance rate on average for recreational aquatic facilities in Toronto

 Year Closed Re-inspection D-noted Satisfactory Non-compliance
2010 3.8 3.5 48.2 44.6 55.40
2011 4.6 4.8 51.0 39.6 60.43
2012 4.2 3.5 54.1 38.2 61.76
2013 3.6 4.7 57.0 30.6 69.41
2014 5.3 7.0 57.1 30.6 69.41
Mean 4.3 4.7 53.5 37.5 62.46
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