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Trained operators, safer pools

Public health inspectors in Alberta have noticed an improvement in the inspection and operation of those aquatic facilities whose operators have been trained.

By Jacquie Schnider

Each level of government can make legislation. Each province has a Public Health Act and accompanying regulations, which include protocols for swimming pool operation. Many jurisdictions where these regulations are in place require swimming pools to be operated by someone who is trained appropriately. In some cases, the level of training varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; however, as each regulation is updated, more are adding sections, which require public swimming pools to be managed by a trained pool operator.

In Alberta, for example, the requirement for pool operator training was introduced as part of the province’s swimming pool regulations in 2006. Prior to these new regulations, the provincial government consulted with the industry, public and government agencies as there was a lack of understanding amongst pool operators regarding the importance of a properly operating pool and the operator’s role in making sure the pool was physically clean, chemically balanced and biologically safe.

Through these consultations the government received feedback on how it would be important for pool operator training to be accessible, and the need for it to focus on the fundamental concepts of pool operation. It also revealed the overwhelming support for this training across the spectrum of industry, government and public.

Benefits of operator training

After the consultations, the first step in attaining the provincial government’s approval for a swimming pool operator training program was to set a required learning objective. Then, any courses and/or training programs submitted to Alberta Health would be reviewed against it.

The government has identified various benefits to having trained operators. For instance, public health inspectors who instruct the courses are able to build a rapport with pool operators, and in turn, operators will recognize the knowledge of pool operation possessed by the inspectors. This not only helps create a balance between enforcement and education, but, as training increases, so does pool operation knowledge, which results in fewer aquatic facility infractions.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health showed free chlorine violations, as well as concurrent pH and free chlorine infractions, were twice as likely to occur in aquatic facilities without operator certification. Additional studies published in the Journal of Aquatic Research and Education (IJARE) and the Journal of Water and Health also show certification to improve overall operation of an aquatic facility. The studies do not report a decrease in recreation water illness (RWI); however, many people do not yet associate illnesses with recreational water, nor do all jurisdictions trace or track RWI illnesses. Where illnesses have been traced to recreational water they have generally been massive outbreaks and other factors are usually the cause. Pool operator training is typically recommended in these cases; however, it is usually after the outbreak has occurred and the investigation is completed. Often, investigators will examine water chemistry first, then physical cleanliness and biological safety of the aquatic environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported on a number of these large-scale RWI outbreaks in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. For example, reports of Norovirus at a swim club in Vermont, and Pseudomonas at hotel pools in Colorado and Maine, all noted a lack of training of the staff maintaining the pools.

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