Pools: Managing the Risk Behind the Fun

Pools: Managing the Risk Behind the Fun

by Kathy Danforth / Published June 2015

Swimming pools, often one of the prime attractions for living in an association, are also a focus for responsibility. Water quality, security, and pool safety all play a part in avoiding accidents, disease, and vandalism. The possibility of drowning or permanent damage significantly raises the stakes for maintaining proper attentiveness and security.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more swimming pool drowning deaths occur in Florida than any other state (www.cdc.gov/Features/dsSafeSwimmingPool). It is the leading cause of injury death for children ages one to four and the second-ranked cause of death for children under age one and ages five to nine. In addition, for every child under 15 who dies from drowning in a pool, another 10 receive emergency room care for a non-fatal submersion incident. These underwater accidents can leave a broad range of limitations resulting from brain damage. For all other ages, drowning was in the top six causes of injury death in Florida in 2012, with 440 total drownings (www.floridahealth.gov). 

Natalie Spindle with the Florida Department of Health recommends that communities provide layers of protection for pool safety, which include supervision, barriers, and emergency preparedness. Keeping in mind that the most common drowning victim is a young child who cannot read or appreciate the danger presented, communities should ensure that children are never able to enter the pool area unaccompanied by a guardian. Timothy O’Connor, also with the Florida Department of Health, advises, “Attentive, adult supervision of children and other non-swimmers is critical. Lifeguards are only required for public pools with climbable features, though other types of pools may warrant them.” The CDC advises, “While lifeguards enhance safety, their ability to safeguard swimmers has limitations. It’s often another swimmer or bystander who first notices someone has drowned.”  

Fencing and other barriers may be considered the first line of defense in pool safety. Bob Vincent, Environmental Administrator with FLDOH notes, “Barriers physically block a child from the pool. Barriers include childproof locks on all doors [leading to a pool area] and a pool fence with self-latching and self-closing gates, as well as door and pool alarms. A pool cover may also be used as long as it is a professional cover fitted to the pool. A simple canvas covering can be a drowning hazard and entrap a child in the water. The Department of Health recommends, at a minimum, using a combination of approved measures.”

Fencing, required since 2004, as specified in Chapter 4, section 424.1 of the Florida Building Code, should be at least four feet high, with the unlatching mechanism not readily accessible by reaching over the fence.

Nathan Varn with Envera Systems comments, “The height of the fence helps in securing the pool area, but communities are balancing aesthetics and function. A chain link fence is easier to get a foothold in, while fabricated aluminum is not as easy to scale. People trespassing in the pool area get in any way they can—they use trees and shrubs, tamper with the gate, and throw rocks. In order to exit the pool area, we have the exit button on a post six feet inside the gate so there is free egress, but no one can reach inside the gate to gain access.”

Active video surveillance is a proactive method of guarding the pool area after hours and safeguarding property from any trespassers, whether wandering children, vandals, or late night joy-swimmers. Varn explains, “We provide after-hours surveillance with cameras with military-grade analytics. If someone tries to gain access to the amenities, guards monitoring the video at our central station can voice down in real time. We have audio in place so we can tell the intruder that the pool is closed and they need to leave immediately. Since it’s in real time, we can immediately call law enforcement or follow whatever procedure the community desires; they aren’t coming the next morning and discovering vandalism then.

“The systems we use were developed by the Israeli military,” says Varn, “and there are minimal false alarms that have to be verified by our licensed guards. In eight hours, the military-grade analytics in the camera will ‘learn’ the scene and be able to differentiate between a tree blowing or water moving and a person trespassing. The algorithms are very accurate so no one gains entrance to the pool area without us knowing it.”

According to Varn, “We can draw an imaginary line in the video wherever the community doesn’t want people to enter. When that line is crossed, the operator receives an alarm and watches the person, with the capability of two-way conversation,” Varn relates. “Some communities have roving guards so we can have a hybrid situation with the guard also called to the area. For any incident, the audio and video are stored so the board can review how the person gained entrance and how the guard interacted. For communities that were having multiple incidents each week, the events stopped when the active video surveillance began. Word gets out! The cameras are also recording activity during the day, but monitoring just occurs when the area is closed.”

Drains present a separate hazard, which was addressed by the 2008 federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. As a result of the drowning death of seven-year-old Graeme due to a faulty drain cover over a suction drain, regulations were passed at the federal and state level requiring appropriate drain covers and prohibiting construction of new pools with suction drains. “Direct suction drainage was allowed for public pools until 1977 and for spa pools until 1993 (though suction limiting vents were required since 1979),” according to Vincent. “About 5,000 of the 37,000 public pools are without gravity drainage today.” Even with required redundancy of systems to avoid a suction entrapment, jewelry or long, loose hair can become snagged should a drain cover become damaged. Of the 195 cases of entrapment from 1985–2007 (national), 28.7 percent of the cases resulted from hair becoming entangled in a drain cover. Limb entrapment from a broken or missing drain cover caused 25.6 percent, an item on the person became stuck on the drain cover in 5.6 percent of cases, and direct suction or unknown situations caused the remainder (CPCS information at www.floridapoolpro.com/safety/pool-drain-safety).

For any submersion accident, emergency response, facilitated by the required, proper safety equipment and use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, can improve outcomes. The CDC notes, “For example, starting CPR immediately rather than waiting for emergency personnel can help reduce the chance of brain damage.”  

Recreational Water Illness (RWI) can be caused by organisms or chemicals in a pool if the pool is contaminated and not properly maintained. “Legionellosis has caused pneumonia with some fatalities in poorly-operated spa pools,” notes O’Connor. 

“Other human fecal pathogens, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, E. coli, Shigella, and enteric viruses have caused illnesses nationally every year and, in recent years, in Florida.”

The standards of daily operations, equipment, and water quality affect the safety of swimmers and are inspected by the Florida Department of Health. “Public pools are specifically regulated by Chapter 514, Florida Statutes,” states Vincent. “The law authorizes the DOH to write the public pool and bathing place rule, Chapter 64E-9, Florida Administrative Code, and for the Florida Building Commission to insert public pool construction requirements into the Florida Building Code at Chapter 4, section 424.1 for the state’s building officials to implement.”

Vincent advises, “The DOH rule requires immediate closure for eight specific violations and allows for closure if other urgent public health sanitation or safety violations are found upon inspection. Operators and owners of public pools must also close their pool if they find their pool in violation of these items.” (See sidebar for violations requiring immediate closure.)

Though inspections are scheduled twice annually, condominiums may have reduced inspections but no lower level of responsibility. Vincent notes, “Since the condominiums with 32 or fewer units can be deemed private pools under a statutory exemption, it behooves them to be diligent from a liability and a consumer satisfaction perspective to ensure their pool is optimally maintained and operated. They should contract with a licensed or certified pool service technician to ensure the code water quality and safety requirements are met. The larger condominiums (greater than 32 units) exemption reduces health inspections to once per year, so they need to watch over their pool 364 days per year.”

“Of the 47 categories of code violations, non-working flow meters are the number one violation, with 16,027 violations during 75,428 inspections last year,” Vincent reports. “The immediate health and safety risk violations were found 13,063 times during those same 75,428 inspections, for immediate temporary closures from 15 percent of inspections. A third of the inspections result in a mandatory re-inspection.”

Vandalism at the pool area may not be worse than elsewhere on the property…but it may damage ladders, gates, and other systems that are essential for safe pool operation. With the seriousness of a pool accident, there is no room for a gate propped open, delayed pool maintenance, or missing or damaged equipment. Swimming lessons, security, warnings, diligent maintenance, and constant vigilance are all worthwhile to keep safety and peace at the pool.

     Any public pool can be immediately posted closed by the department as not being in compliance with Chapter 64E-9, F.A.C., whenever any of the following conditions occur:

1. (a) The disinfectant level is below the minimum or above the maximum that is prescribed in subparagraph 64E-9.004(1)(d)2., F.A.C.

(b) The pH of the pool water is below 7.2 or above 7.8.

(c) The clarity of the pool water is such that the main drain grate is not readily visible from the pool deck.

(d) The recirculation system or disinfection feeding equipment is missing or not functioning.

(e) A main drain grate is missing, unsecured, improperly secured, damaged, or does not meet the requirements of 64E-9.007(10)(f)2 by the time allowed.

(f) Operation without a valid permit.

(g) Direct suction exists on the main drain or other outlets, except vacuum fittings, automatic surface skimmers, and their equalizer grates, provided the flow velocity through the grate does not exceed 1.5 feet per second, or the corrective actions specified in 64E-9.007(3)(b) and (10)(f) are not completed by dates specified.

(h) Any other condition, which endangers the health, safety, or welfare of persons using the pool, which may include, but is not limited to: a drowning hazard, broken glass, sharp-edged or broken tile or metal, fecal accident(s), electrical code violation, or severe biological growth. The division or department may attach a sign that states “Pool Closed. This pool is not in compliance with Chapter 64E-9, F.A.C., and may endanger the health, safety, or welfare of persons using this facility.” With the department’s permission, the pool operator may remove signs from the pool area immediately following correction of the cited.