Improving Pool Safety with Model Aquatic Health Code

The movie "Jaws" made you afraid to go into the water, but it was the inclusion of the "Jaws" theme music in another "scary" water scene five years later that likely resonated more with moviegoers. But instead of a shark, the object of fear was a Baby Ruth candy bar. Harold Ramis' classic comedy "Caddyshack" — virtually impossible not to quote while golfing nearly 35 years after its release — makes light of the pool safety nightmare known as a Code Brown, but that subject is certainly no laughing matter to pool operators tasked with keeping their aquatic facilities safe and clean.

While "Jaws" had the benefit of a sharp-shooting sheriff and "Caddyshack" had a multi-talented greenskeeper to solve their water problems, there has never been one magic formula to protecting pools — until now. At the end of August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the first version of its highly anticipated Model Aquatic Health Code, a set of guidelines that public pool operators can follow to keep their swimmers healthy and safe. These guidelines are also meant to help state and local health departments create or update regulations, while providing tips on design and construction, water filtration and disinfection, safety, ventilation, air quality and staff training.

The MAHC has the potential to be a game-changer for pool operators, and the numbers certainly support how much these guidelines are needed in aquatic facilities. According to the CDC, Americans make more than 300 million visits to pools each year. During the past 20 years, pool-related outbreaks have increased dramatically, with 57 pools sickening more than 1,000 people between 2009 and 2012. Improperly used pool chemicals were responsible for 5,000 emergency room visits in 2012 alone. And recent data from more than 120,000 pool inspections found one in eight public pools had to be temporarily closed due to health and safety issues.

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It's impossible to dive into the depth required to cover the MAHC in this space, so here are some basics: It was created by the CDC in collaboration with more than 140 volunteers with expertise in aquatic venues, health and/or safety. There were multiple opportunities throughout the process for public comments on each module. While many in the pool community have expressed excitement and optimism surrounding the potential safety and health impact the MAHC can have on their facilities, there are concerns about the costs needed to bring a pool into compliance with these guidelines. But according to the CDC, the MAHC will only pertain to new construction or large renovations, and will not require retrofitting of existing pools.

For example, with regard to hygiene, the MAHC contains sample requirements for new or significant renovation projects that include implementing minimum distances between hygiene facilities and aquatic facilities, criteria for diaper-changing stations, and implementation of rinse showers in addition to cleansing showers.

The CDC hopes that over time, adoption of the MAHC could drive greater consistency in aquatic facility construction and operation, but it's impossible to predict how local and state health departments will react to this groundbreaking document. Based on conversations on the subject at last year's World Aquatic Health Conference, many aquatics facility managers are hoping that compliance with the MAHC's principles now and in the future will be, as that fictional greenskeeper might say, "No big deal."

COMING SOON: The 2015 Athletic Business Aquatic Design Portfolio

This column originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Can the MAHC Fix Pool Safety?"

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