Aquatic Safety Review, Part 2

By Richard LaRue

What follows is the second part of a three-part guide to the important checkpoints in an aquatics facility, whether indoors or outdoors, to help ensure safety.


Part 1, which ran in the February issue, focused on structures and the pool environment; Part 2 focuses on electrical and mechanical engineering; and Part 3 will focus on pool equipment and policy development.

Compare these points to your own safety checklist and use this as an opportunity to review and update your list as appropriate. And, since safety and risk management planning/implementation is always a work in process, let us know if you've thought of something we should add to our list!

Electrical & Mechanical Checklist
1. The mechanical and electrical aspects of an aquatic facility are integral to both the operation of the facility and the safety of facility users and staff.

To ensure against situations where these systems fail; the facility staff must be familiar with the characteristics of the equipment and know how to properly utilize, inspect and maintain the equipment.

2. HVAC-R Equipment: Establish a regular (daily/weekly) inspection and maintenance schedule for all HVAC-R equipment, to be completed by knowledgeable staff. Regular inspections should include:

• Inspection of all belts, and other moving parts; lubricating as needed, etc.

• Record all inspections and/or maintenance of/to the equipment.

• Check for unusual sounds, leaks, etc., when HVAC-R equipment is operating that might indicate a problem, and request a professional inspection.

3. Establish an annual inspection for all HVAC-R equipment to be completed by an appropriate engineering professional.

• Conduct a thorough inspection of all equipment with special attention to motors, pumps, air handling and other critical equipment.

• Apply all appropriate tests, such as efficiency tests on vacuum pumps, rpm tests on condenser fan motors, check for refrigerant leaks, measure air velocity in air ducts, test the manifold pressure of any given gas appliance, etc.

• The licensed HVAC-R professional should utilize safe practices when managing inspection, maintenance and repairs. Further, the professional should properly handle and dispose of all waste products.

• Conduct air quality tests and fully mitigate any issues with regard to sick building syndrome.

4. Manage the aquatic facility in a manner that ensures the proper air/water temperatures, humidity and air quality (as much as possible). These values should all be recorded.

• Staff should regularly test and record the air and water temperatures.

• Staff should regularly test and record humidity.

• Temperatures for air and water and humidity readings should be made available to users. Outdoor pools may also wish to include information regarding weather, outdoor air quality, such as air pollution, UV levels, etc.

5. Manage the pool quality in a manner that ensures proper compliance with local/state health codes.

• Staff should regularly test and record water disinfectant levels.

• Staff should regularly check and record water turbidity.

• Proper water quality should be maintained whenever the aquatic facility is open (see also pool re-circulation equipment).


6. Pool Recirculation, Water Filtration and Disinfection: All pool recirculation equipment should be regularly checked to ensure that the pool water is being effectively filtered and disinfected. Regular inspection should include:

• Pool gutters should be free of all debris and other materials or objects that might impede water flow to gutter drains.

• Pool drains should be free of all debris and other materials or objects that might impede water flow into the pumps or filters.

• Pool skimmer (not in all pools) should be emptied on a regular basis to better enable the skimmer to do its job of collecting debris, etc., prior to entering the filters.

• Re-circulating pump should be checked for excessive temperature or failing operation that might be indicated by increased noise, decrease in flow output, leaks, etc. If there is any indication that the pump is failing, it should be immediately taken offline and inspected by a professional. To facilitate this action, the recirculation system should have a second pump either available or ideally already plumbed in the system to manage the switch. If two pumps are plumbed in parallel, for alternate use, then proper operation might consider maintaining a regular schedule for alternating the pumps so that each is used the same amount in a given period of time. Proper operational records will facilitate this process.

• Make sure that all valves are operating correctly and that they are tagged in a manner that will facilitate the filter backwashing process (see below).

• Make sure that there is a complete diagram and step-by-step process available for staff to refer to and follow throughout the backwashing process. Again, tagging valves, gauges, etc., will assist the staff in this process. A filter backwashing video where the entire process is demonstrated correctly is an excellent tool for staff training. And, all staff responsible for filter backwashing should be assessed in their ability to perform this process correctly.


• Flow gauges are generally installed pre- and post-filtration to aid in accessing when filters need to be backwashed. These should be checked to ensure that the filters are backwashed as needed. Failure to backwash filters when needed, in a timely fashion, may both decrease the water quality and increase the pressure on the re-circulating pump. There are several types of re-circulation systems available for installation. The overall water quality will be impacted by whether or not the recirculation system (including the filters and pumps, etc.) are adequate and provide the required turn-over rate for the total number of gallons of water in the pool. A competent pool professional will be able to ensure that the system is designed appropriately for the facility.

• The make-up or overflow tank (if part of the system) should be carefully checked to ensure that enough water is in the system to adequately keep the pool level at the height of the gutters (when the pool is not in use). When pool water levels get too low, the gutters and skimmer will not assist the removal of floating debris as intended, and the water re-circulating through the pump, filters, etc., may not be adequate for proper operation.

• The pool water level should be maintained as prescribed by the pool design, to ensure that when the depth of the pool is marked three, four, or 10 feet, etc., the pool is actually three, four, or 10 feet respectively. The depth of the pool is a critical safety issue

• The pool recirculation system must include some means of water disinfection. Whether automated or not, this equipment must be operating effectively to maintain the proper disinfectant levels in the pool water (as determined by regular testing). In outdoor pools testing will need to be more frequent when in use, and disinfectant should be easily added when needed to respond to low readings. Automated systems can reduce or eliminate low disinfectant readings if they are operating correctly. The staff will also need to check to see that there are adequate supplies of disinfecting chemicals available for normal operation. Because pool water disinfecting chemicals are often generally hazardous chemicals, proper management of these chemicals demands staff awareness of the hazards, proper training and supervision. The OSHAct requires that all chemicals must have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) made available for staff to review, to ensure the safe handling and exposure to these substances.

• Finally, all pipes throughout the entire re-circulating system should be checked for leaks to ensure that the system does not fail because of a water loss.

7. Lighting (surface and underwater): Electricity and water are not a good mix, but are necessary for any aquatic facility. There are two primary considerations regarding lighting and aquatic facilities: provide adequate lighting and ensure that all lighting is safe.

• All surface lighting is regularly checked to ensure against possible contact with the pool or users.

• Surface lighting should be maintained at a maximum level as much as possible. At no time should a facility be opened if the surface lighting does not meet minimal standards established by local/state code.

• Surface lighting (direct or indirect) should be designed to enable changing bulbs without risk to the staff. Further, when bulbs are changed, any chance that a bulb would fall and break should be eliminated. If any glass breaks in the pool (see also Part 3 regarding development of pool policies on glass containers, etc.), the pool will need to be completely emptied and cleaned in order to comply with most health departments.

• Underwater lights should be regularly tested before anyone is using the pool to ensure safe operation. If a bulb is out the bulb should be replaced and the light thoroughly inspected prior to use, especially in a 120V AC system.

• All surface and underwater lights are annually inspected by a lighting professional for compliance with minimal lighting standards and to ensure against any electrical hazards

8. Sound (and acoustics): Sound systems in both indoor and outdoor pools should be regularly assessed for sound quality and inspected for safety. Effective sound systems are an integral part of pool communication and safety.

9. Alarms (warning systems): The operational safety of most aquatic facilities rests on the various alarms or warning systems that are in place. Users and staff need to know their roles/responsibilities with regard to all alarms. To ensure a knowledgeable user and staff population, training is essential (see also Part III with regard to policy development).

• Regularly test all alarms to determine if they are working as intended/required.

• Provide aquatic facility participant/user orientation that ensures an adequate knowledge base and compliance with all polices regarding the facility warning systems.

• Provide all staff with training that ensures and adequate knowledge base and compliance with all policies regarding the facility warning systems.

• Regularly practice and assess compliance with the staff on their ability to follow all policies regarding the facility warning systems.

10. Ground Fault Interrupters (GFIs): Electrical code requires that all receptacles adjacent to water (pools, bathroom and kitchen sinks, etc.) have GFIs installed on all relevant circuits. All GFIs' integrity should be tested to determine compliance to code, and to ensure that they are operating correctly. If a GFI fails to close a circuit when tested, a licensed electrician should replace it immediately.

11. Access and Egress: The safety of an aquatic facility is largely dependant upon the ability for the organization to control facility access at times when the facility is not in use. Further, facility egress is a critical aspect of user and staff safety in the event of a fire or other emergency where the facility must be evacuated. Warning systems can serve an effective role in addressing access and egress safety challenges, including:

• Surface water alarms that can warn of unauthorized use of a pool by warning when someone or something disturbs the water's surface. Obviously this can be problematic in outdoor pools if critters like to use the pool when it is closed. However, as these alarms have grown more sophisticated they can be adjusted to react to a significant disturbance in the water's surface rather than minor changes.

• Alarmed doors that indicate when a door or gate is opened (most often these are egress doors where an alarm sounds when the door is used).

• Perimeter alarms (motion detection) that sound when the perimeter of a facility is violated (again, the sensitivity may be an issue). Perimeter warning systems can also be configured to turn on surface lighting that may also help deter unauthorized pool usage.

The checklist for structure and the pool environment can be found in Part 1. The checklist for items above related to lifeguarding (location with regard to pool design and visibility), pool equipment, and policy development will be included in Part 3.

World Health Organization (2000). Guidelines for safe recreational waters, Volume 2 -- Swimming pools, spas and similar recreational-water environments, available online at

Dr. Richard J. LaRue is Chair of Exercise and Sport Performance, University of New England.