By Anne-Maria Quin and Fatih Sekercioglu
The relationship between the local public health department and the owners, operators, and staff of public pools, spas/hot tubs, wading pools, splash/spray pads, and waterparks can best be described as multi-dimensional. With a role that ranges from inspection and enforcement to training and support, the relationship between public health inspectors and those who operate recreational water facilities is critical to the safety of their patrons as well as to the prevention and reduction of waterborne illnesses.
Aquatic facilities are used for recreation and therapy by people of all ages and states of health. If not operated or maintained properly, they can pose numerous risks for bathers, including the potential exposure to waterborne illnesses and minor to life-threatening injuries.
As the recent recipient of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ (APSP’s) Dr. Neil Lowry Award, the first time it has been presented to a Canadian winner, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) has developed an approach that aims to achieve those goals while creating an environment that encourages operators to make their facilities the best they can be.
Located in London, Ont., the MLHU is a key partner in the local health system. As part of its mandate, the health unit conducts routine, unannounced inspections of local recreational water facilities, as well as any re-inspections that are necessary in an effort to ensure any issues of concern that are identified are brought into compliance. Public health inspectors from the MLHU also ensure bather and client safety by conducting complaint-related investigations when concerns are raised about possible waterborne illnesses, or conditions at recreational water facilities that could lead to injury. In addition to this inspection and enforcement role, these inspectors also work closely with owners and operators, guiding them through regulatory requirements, and ensuring their facilities are operated in a safe and sanitary manner.
General pool safety introduction
In Ontario, public health inspectors conduct assessments of local public pools and spas to ensure operators are following the regulations outlined for them under the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Health Protection and Promotion Act. In addition, under the Ontario Public Health Standards Recreational Water Protocol 2014, Ontario’s local boards of health are required to have their staff inspect seasonal public pools and spas at least twice a year, while indoor public pools and spas must be inspected at least once every three months while in operation. Non-regulated recreational water facilities, like wading pools, splash and/or spray pads and waterslide receiving basins at waterparks are to be inspected using the Operating Procedures for Non-Regulated Recreational Water Facilities Guidance Document at least once a year. While the owners and operators are legally responsible for ensuring facilities are operated and maintained in accordance with the regulations contained in provincial legislation, public health inspectors are considered partners in achieving these goals. This speaks to the training and support role inspectors have with owners and operators, in addition to their inspection and enforcement role.
The MLHU currently has a team of eight inspectors assigned to conduct more than 650 recreational water facility inspections each year as part of the Safe Water and Rabies Prevention and Control programs’ overall activities.
The inspectors use a software-based program to enter the inspection data they observe, and based on those observations, issue a report for the facility operator that details their findings at the time of the visit. Any items found to be in non-compliance are noted and must be corrected within a prescribed time. The inspectors also educate the operators on site, as required, to increase their knowledge by addressing any specific non-compliance issues head-on. It is sometimes necessary to close a facility when a health hazard that cannot be addressed immediately, is found. In such cases, facilities are allowed to reopen once all non-compliance items are corrected.
Training of public health inspectors
In Canada, public health inspectors are certified under the Canadian Institute for Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI). To become a certified inspector, a candidate must first graduate from a CIPHI-accredited university program, then complete a comprehensive 12-week practicum, before successfully fulfilling the board of certification requirements, which include completing two written reports and taking an oral exam. In addition to this rigorous certification process, most of the MLHU’s inspectors are also National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) Certified Pool Operators® (CPO®). Each inspector also receives ongoing education through in-service training sessions as needed.