The New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) proudly represents the aquatics industry. Part of our commitment in this key role is to outline current best practice and industry standards, and provide templates and requirements for managers and operators of aquatic facilities.
Our scope is broad: it includes everything from thermal and spa pools, to hospitality and school pools. One of the tools we rely on is the PoolSafe Quality Management Scheme (PoolSafe), an independent assessment of public pools to ensure that their operations and facilities are safe.
The particular topic I’d like to address here is pool safety in commercial accommodation premises like hotels, motels and holiday parks. Part of NZRA’s mandate in the aquatics sector is to ensure owners and managers understand their responsibilities when it comes to maintaining safe and hygienic pool conditions.
As an accommodation owner or manager, your duty is to assess the efficiency of the mechanical systems and chemical treatment you have in place for your pools. It is your responsibility to make sure your pool is safe for guests. Because of potential health hazards, your swimming pool equipment and your water quality should be checked constantly. This is a daily requirement.
The New Zealand Standard which governs quality of all treated public and private fresh water and sea water swimming pools, spa pools, and geothermal pools while they are in use, is NZS5826:2010. This standard addresses the essential aspects of the operation and maintenance of pools with a focus on pool water quality criteria.
The objective of this standard is to ensure that water in swimming pools is maintained to safe chemical and microbiological levels. Safe levels mean swimmers are protected from unsafe bacteria, as well as from chemical burns to skin and mucous membranes. Safe levels mean that you have a pool where the water looks clean and attractive. It also means you minimise the risk of damage to your pool and any associated equipment. In other words, the standard is there first and foremost to protect your guests, but it also benefits you and your facility.
People don’t always realise just how much contamination pool water is exposed to. Pool water is contaminated by swimmers who bring dirt, sweat, body fats, faecal matter, oral and nasal discharges into the water, as well as hair and lint from swimming togs. Windblown debris and material from the pool surrounds can also enter the pool and add to the mix.
To ensure that a pool is not a health risk, the NZS5826:2010 Standard outlines the desired values for correct pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness, free available chlorine (FAC), total chlorine, total dissolved solids (TDS) and, for outdoor pools, cyanuric acid. The Standard also outlines the frequency of chemical testing for each of the above characteristics or chemicals. All results of the chemical testing need to be documented, with reference to the date and time the test was taken. These records, in print or electronic format, must be preserved.
The characteristics or chemicals are different, and the frequency of testing is increased for pools that have a higher water temperature (35 – 40°C) like hot tubs, spa and hydrotherapy pools. Whether in use or not, spa water should be changed on a weekly basis. The water should be changed more frequently if the water has an unpleasant odour, isn’t clear or exceeds the TDS limit. The Standard also details specific requirements for geothermal pools.
Monthly microbiological testing is a requirement of the Standard to guard against harmful organisms in the water. These tests need to be conducted by laboratories that specialise in water treatment testing. The local public health office can provide the location of the nearest testing laboratory. The following tests should be conducted: faecal coliforms or Escherichia coli (E. coli), staphylococcus aureus, pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as standard plate count (SPC).
The Standard also provides details on dealing with faecal solids, diarrhoea, vomiting and in notifiable disease outbreaks. Occasionally, faecal accidents happen in swimming pools and the water can quickly disperse pathogens and put other users of the pool at risk. Immediate action needs to be taken following these accidents and every facility should have a pool-specific procedure for dealing with these situations. Staff need to know the procedures. All incidents and responses must be documented.
Chemicals that are used for the treatment of the water can be hazardous and are subject to controls imposed by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act). It is important that the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are displayed where the chemicals are stored and used. All persons handling these chemicals need to take the appropriate safety precautions, which includes the wearing of personal protection equipment (PPE). The person handling the chemical may need to be an approved handler. Instructions on emergency procedures and on safe storage of chemicals should be prominently displayed in the area where the chemicals are mixed and handled.
One aspect that operators need to be aware of is how many people are likely to use the pool at any one time. Planning for maximum use on any given day means that chemical treatment levels can be adjusted accordingly.
For public pools, the operation of the water treatment systems is the responsibility of a person(s) holding NZQA unit standards in swimming pool water quality e.g. Small Pool Operators (Unit Standard 20046). The management of pool water quality needs to be under continuous technical supervision.
A full copy of NZS5826:2010 is available from Standards NZ https://www.standards.govt.nz/ Please don’t hesitate to contact NZRA for clarification or with any questions you may have.
Pool safety is paramount. And it starts with you, the owner or manager, understanding your duties and creating a healthy environment for swimmers. By doing this, you’ll ensure that your guests have a safe, positive and enjoyable experience. You’ll also be safeguarding the quality and durability of your assets, and helping promote high standards at your facility.
Pool safety benefits everyone!