Reopening a swimming pool? There’s a lot to consider…

For myself and many others who have experience within the leisure industry, and swimming pools specifically, we have been waiting patiently for any kind of information regarding the reopening of the swimming pool environment. PWTAG and RLSS UK have released guidance that can help us with some of the technical issues that we will have to consider and are the best form of advice available at this time, links to these are below.

Now, before the global pandemic forced the closure of the leisure industry, there may have been times that swimming pools had to be closed for a significant period, whether that be seasonal closures, repair and maintenance or other planned or unplanned situations. Reopening a pool following these scenarios is a relatively simple task for suitably trained staff from a technical standpoint. However, we now find ourselves in a unique time with difficulties that we have never faced before in our lifetime. Our culture is generally a very social one that does not easily lend itself to distancing from others as part of daily life. The importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and fitness has never been more highlighted and widely acknowledged as it has in the last decade. These are qualities of life that we are considerably lucky to experience and have access to in terms of information and suitable environments. I am sure that many of you, like me, may have taken a lot of these things for granted before they were taken away so abruptly for our own protection. We are having to find creative ways of maintaining our exercise routine and adjusting our diets based on necessity and availability. And as much as we would love for things to go ‘back to normal’ this just isn’t going to happen and rightly so. Changes are going to be required in order for the wheels to start turning on what is now our new journey towards a new normal. What may come in the future? Nobody knows. What we do know is that we want to create a safe way for us all to enjoy and benefit from the availability of our leisure facilities. As mentioned previously, technical support and guidance from PWTAG and RLSS UK as well as Pool Plant Specialists and manufacturers, will enable swimming pool operators to ensure good water quality and smooth running of equipment following the closure. However, my thoughts tend to lean more towards the normal operating procedures which were completely acceptable prior to Coronavirus but now must be altered in a way that still allows the use of the facility whilst considering social distancing and minimizing large groups.
As we have come to learn recently, things can change very quickly and we are not sure how long these measures are going to be required, but I was once told “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail!” Being aware of the most recent recommendations and government guidelines will be critical for all swimming pool operators and the development of their safe systems of work as well as their risk assessments. I am not in a position to say what to do and what not to do but I would like to share with you my thoughts on what I believe could be a suitable and acceptable alteration to swimming pool use during this transition.
We have to consider various factors including lifeguard numbers, rotation, zone coverage and cleaning regimes and this is before any visitors have entered and depending on your pool size, shape and visibility your independent risk assessments will obviously dictate how this system works best for your site.
The way the majority of fitness classes operate is based on space allowance per customer and this could work to some degree in swimming pools, booking a time slot in the same way you would book onto yoga or circuit class. Maximum occupancy guidelines as stated in Section 68 of Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools HSG179, BS EN 15288 recommends 3m2 of pool water per bather, however during a general swim this can not accurately equate to maintaining the recommended 2m social distancing. Maximum occupancy would have to be drastically reduced to ensure the likelihood of contact is minimal. By implementing a booking system these numbers are easily managed and gives multiple opportunities to everyone to ensure pool availability throughout the day. For example, a swimming pool measuring 20m x 10m would allow a bather load of 66 people, reduce this to say 25 and you are allowing 8m2 per bather. This, along with supervision from lifeguards and/or those responsible for the safety of the bathers should be suitable numbers. By doing this we are also increasing the chance of early intervention in the pool environment which could ultimately be the difference between life and death. Less people in a more managed space with good quality supervision by trained staff. A booking slot of 1 hour with a maximum of 25 people been properly supervised would enable the safe use of the facility. At the end of the allotted time the bathers would be asked to shower and change. Once the area is clear use a period of ‘down time’ where the lifeguards or trained staff would implement the cleaning of the swimming pool and changing area ready for the next allotted time slot to begin. A 1 hour time slot for swimming followed by a 30 minute cleaning period on a continuous cycle throughout the day. This system could help ensure that everyone who wants to use the facility has an equal chance and can book an appropriate time, numbers will be strictly adhered to, the safety of the public and employees is obviously the main concern and this is easily recognized through this system. A brief health statement could be signed during the booking process or on arrival which could again help reduce the likelihood of infection.
Nothing is perfect and we are all going to have to adjust. Relearn what we used to know. But having a plan or a system at the ready will give us the best chance at moving forward. Going through the Pool Safety Operating Procedures and making reasonable alterations could make a huge difference when it comes to the safety of everyone using the facility. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions if you are unsure. Use the advice that is all around you and come up with a plan that will help you, your business and your customers.
I sincerely hope that the combined efforts of our governing bodies, water safety charities, health and safety professionals and those working in the leisure industry can help create a safe and enjoyable environment for us all.

Alexander Smith

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