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Staying in Your Lane: Tips for Avoiding Pool Shutdowns

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While a number of important factors account for successful pool operation, when it comes down to it, keeping your pool open is the most important of them all.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to shut down a facility lies with the local health inspector. Since these professionals have seen it all when it comes to pool violations, the makers of Accu-Tab®, Axiall Water Treatment Products, a Westlake company, teamed up with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to conduct an extensive survey on the protocols and experiences of local health departments in recreational water facility inspection.

It’s More Common Than You May Think

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Think a shutdown couldn’t happen to you? 

Consider this: 75 percent of health inspectors responded they have had at least one shutdown in the past two years. The NACCHO-Axiall survey revealed that nearly all reported pool shutdowns were due to one major thing: poor water quality—specifically, low levels of sanitization chemicals like chlorine. Although low sanitizing and chlorine levels have significant ripple effects, this can generally be addressed through proper use of effective chlorination systems that offer consistent chlorine delivery control and eliminate the guessing game when it comes to sanitation levels.

Maintaining a safe chlorination level does not just help to prevent a health violation and subsequent shutdown, it also protects the safety of swimmers, staff and the physical condition of a facility by helping to prevent the growth of algae blooms, bacteria and other pathogens that can cause waterborne recreational illnesses.

Know Your Standards
According to the survey, 68 percent of local health departments inspect local recreational water facilities, evaluating each facility using a variety of standards and guidelines. The first step toward avoiding a shutdown is a better understanding of what inspectors are looking for, and which standards are referenced during inspections.

Pool operators can take proactive steps to prevent an unexpected shutdown by reviewing the facility’s equipment and ensuring it's certified by an external third party such NSF International. 

For example, you can perform a quick check on any product’s certification status by entering the product manufacturer and/or name on the NSF website (for chemical feeders, reference Flow Chemical Feeding Equipment). Also, be sure to read each product manufacturer’s instructions in full to ensure directions for operation are being followed.

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According to the Accu-Tab-NACCHO study, 46 percent of operators never check to see if the chemical being used in the chlorination system is the same brand or chemical type specified by the manufacturer. If an inspector catches this, it will void the product’s NSF certification, potentially resulting in a shutdown if NSF Standard 50 is a requirement for operation in the state or local municipality.

However, there are larger concerns. Use of an incompatible chemical could lead to a fire, explosion or other serious event.

Experience Matters
Being prepared for an inspection is a complex process. That’s why retaining staff and ensuring their familiarity with the latest rules and regulations is so important. One key takeaway from the survey was that staff turnover rates are inversely proportional to members’ level of knowledge about pool water, equipment and inspection requirements.

The more experienced the staff, the lower the chance of shutdown.

Educating maintenance staff at the facilities experiencing high turnover—both during the onboarding process and throughout employment—is crucial. It’s not just the pool manager who must know what inspectors look for, but the whole maintenance staff.

More Than an Inconvenience
Although the vast majority of pool shutdowns only last a few hours, they’re still indicative of larger safety and health issues that can endanger swimmers, staff and the facility’s reputation.

Pool operators looking to prevent a shutdown should proactively educate staff and make copies of rules and guidelines readily available. Manufacturer recommendations should be followed carefully to ensure the proper use of all equipment and chemicals. Proper levels of sanitizing chemicals like chlorine must be maintained, and pH balance should be tested regularly. These steps are necessary investments in ensuring the safety of swimmers, staff and a facilities' standing as a place for healthy, fun recreation. 

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