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Redundant safety systems for pool chemicals help reduce risk of accidents

By Kory Parker

Anyone who has not been trained on the use of equipment, chemicals, and processes should not have access to the machinery.
Anyone who has not been trained on the use of equipment, chemicals, and processes should not have access to the machinery.

Pool safety is not something to be taken lightly. Water recreation provides a lot of fun, exercise, and social interaction, but it also holds hazards. Pool chemicals, including chlorine and acid, are unstable substances that can be lethal when not handled properly. Chlorine is necessary to keep water clean and sanitary. There needs to be at least 1 part per million (ppm) of chlorine in pools and 3 ppm in hot tubs to maintain a safe environment. Acid serves to balance pH levels.

Just as lifeguards and flotation devices help protect swimmers, precautions and proper equipment can reduce the risk of severely dangerous chemical reactions.

Pool chemicals must be monitored

In general, the chemicals used to treat pool water are added to moving water in the pool’s circulation system, which allows the chemicals to mix at an appropriately diluted concentration. Unfortunately, if the circulation system fails, the two chemicals can be exposed to one another at high concentrations, creating a substance very similar to mustard gas. Since mustard gas is two-and-a-half times heavier than air, it sits on the surface of the water, directly exposing swimmers.

On June 4, 2019, that is exactly what happened at Pleasant Grove Veterans Memorial Pool in Utah. A safety system malfunctioned, and too much chlorine and acid were released into the pool. Nearly 50 individuals, including small children, were hospitalized due to prolonged exposure to the gas.

That same year, 14 children were exposed to an overdose of chlorine at the LaSalle Park public pool in Burlington, Ont. Eight ambulances arrived at the scene and swimmers had to be evacuated. The pool was closed for the remainder of the day.

A similar accident occurred in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, where 35 people were sent to the hospital after inhaling chlorine gas that had settled at the top of the pool.

Dozens of such incidents happen in public pools across North America every year, injuring hundreds of individuals, sometimes causing long-term respiratory complications. The injuries are terrible on their own, and commercial pools can also lose income and public trust as a result.

Proper training can reduce pool accidents

Training by a certified instructor ensures pool operators are familiar with the chemicals, procedures, and potential hazards associated with operating a pool and can handle any malfunctions in the circulation and chemical equipment.
Training by a certified instructor ensures pool operators are familiar with the chemicals, procedures, and potential hazards associated with operating a pool and can handle any malfunctions in the circulation and chemical equipment.

The good news is pool-related mishaps are generally preventable. Electrical failures and operator errors are the most common causes of chemical accidents.
So, with proper training and some procedural adjustments, the risk can be considerably reduced.

In the U.S., a pool operator training course is required by law in most areas. There are two accepted courses: the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance’s (PHTA’s) Certified Pool Operator (CPO) program, and the Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) program, sponsored by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA).

In Canada, CPO certification is required by health departments in most provinces. Pool professionals can check with their local health department for specific options and regulations.

These training classes are invaluable in helping operators maintain a safe environment for swimmers. The certification ensures employees know the current regulations and guidelines, how to test and balance water chemicals, disinfection processes, facility safety procedures, how to react in an emergency, and more. Certification classes can range from a 16-hour, in-person course to home study options that might take up to six months to complete. Hybrid courses, with at-home study followed by limited, socially distanced in-person instruction, have emerged over the last year to accommodate the restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

Complex concepts such as geometry, chemistry, hydraulics, and electricity are part of pool operations and need to be explained in a way users will understand and remember. Luckily, training by a certified instructor ensures public and private pool operators are familiar with the chemicals, procedures, and potential hazards associated with operating a pool, and have been taught how to handle any malfunctions in the circulation and chemical equipment.

As aquatics technology has become increasingly sophisticated, sanitation and safety have improved. But more complex technology means local operators need increased training to learn how to safely handle each component. Anyone who has not been trained on the use of equipment, chemicals, and processes should not have access to the machinery. This is a liability as well as a safety concern—just as technicians are not expected to know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and should not be left in charge of swimmers, lifeguards do not know the protocols for chemical safety and should not be in the vicinity of potentially dangerous equipment.

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