2009 A New Year for Pool Safety

As cliché as it may sound, where did 2008 go? It was certainly a fast-paced year and extremely busy in terms of swimming pool and spa safety. In some sense, using a child analogy, it’s as if we stepped out of industry adolescence and jumped right into the frenzy of college freshman mayhem. Perhaps not all of you gained too much weight...The state of our industry from a safety perspective is actually quite good. While we all felt the pinch of the economic downturn, these times tend to have a culling effect and in some ironic twist, many of those that fail, didn’t need to be around in the first place. 2009 will provide some interesting challenges for us as we now try to take a collection of “consensus” derived rules and laws, and turn them into understandable, repeatable, operational practices for our companies.This will involve CHANGE and change is never easy.There will be those that say we went too far, and perhaps we did. There will be those that say we haven’t done enough, and maybe we haven’t. There will be a lot of comments, but there is only one test that in the end will really matter:Are the rules, standards, and codes we have put into place technically accurate and based on sound science and engineering principles?That is the test. It is this very action that will ultimately decide if the thousands of hours of volunteer work, the millions spent collectively by distributors, manufacturers, and pool builders, both in cash and opportunity cost, will actually save a life. While there is no way to put a price on any life, certainly there is a way to put a face on it. I can assure you if any of the faces below...Alexia, Erin, or Danner Cronise were on that list, the outrage and dedication everyone has come to expect from me would be but a small shadow of what would happen in the wake of that death. That being said, every word of suggested improvement I offered would be first challenged by the scientific method of Observation, Hypothesis, Prediction, and Testing. Our industry is way past “daddy-did-it engineering.” It matters not how long you have been in business - some have 30 years of experience and others have one year of experience 30 times.

Pool Safety starts with the people you love most - your family. Ray Cronise, former Nasa Scientist and father of three has dedicated numerous hours to eliminate suction entrapment hazards from swimming pools and spas.

Our collective industry dedication to safety has angered a few, created excitement in others, and most importantly - I know we have saved a life. We'll never hear a word about those that didn’t drown, but we can be assured they are out there - and will have at least one more round of birthday candles to extinguish. We can be certain that not one suction entrapment has, or will, occur on a pool without submerged suction. I know of no reported cases of Cryptosporidium, E. coli, giardia, or legionellosis traced back to pools built and operated with no drain. In fact, I suspect most of pools with these reported health issues had a drain as these problems are more commonly associated with public pools. In any case, let's not be paralyzed by the fear of what MIGHT happen, let's act on what science and testing says DOES happpen.If you want to learn more about Recreational Water Illness (RWI), you can find some fantastic fact sheets at the NSPF website. At this point it is just a matter of time and these legacy devices will be displaced by safe, overflow alternatives. Until then, we will still have to build submerged suctions in our pool safely, with correct covers, properly sized piping and pumps, and following the ANSI/APSP-7 Suction Entrapment Avoidance Standard. Finally we will all want to verify, as a matter of standard industry practice, that what we install IS and REMAINS operational and safe - this is no different that testing the water for chlorine. The new ASSP-7 Field Verification Addendum will give us these tools.While we have spent countless hours and industry resources on this important, but single issue over the last 5-6 years, each year more children die through preventable drowning than ALL ENTRAPMENT CASES OVER THE LAST 20 years combined! The U.S. CPSC estimates there are about 260 drowning deaths of children under 5 each year. Suction Entrapment related deaths are completely preventable, but relatively rare. Many more drowning deaths (thousands) happen in natural bodies of water, but there never seems to be any real rush to fence and install alarms on all the rivers, ponds, oceans, and lakes. I’m not making light of this very real safety issue, but rather pointing out that our actions are a reflection of our values and many more hours and resources are being poured into a relatively small percentage of the overall problem problem. Perhaps we should all reconsider.Rather than continue down this divisive, contentious legislative path, what can WE do collectively in 2009 as an both a construction and safety industry to continue to build the pools and beautiful water features our customers are demanding? How can we come together on these issue and be certain that our customers are aware that “children aren’t waterproof?” How do we promote the pioneering work of Dr. Harvey Barnett and make sure more of our customers teach their children to swim? What can we do to improve our understanding of circulation in swimming pools and remove the myth that a drain or some arbitrary 80/20 skimmer/main drain flow split is going to assure proper distribution of sanitizer?There are so many ways our industry can make positive changes and all of them start with an awareness of facts around pool injuries and deaths followed by a focus on sound scientifically validated solutions. To succeed we MUST move beyond our our safety product-driven legislative habits and onto solving the problems one by one. Yes, selling plastic can be lucrative, but selling pools and lifestyle is so much MORE profitable and meaningful.Don’t we all remember the story of Thomas Edison and the Phonograph? Remember the notebook in which he wrote every possible problem and then one by one he checked them off?

Thomas Edison used inventive ways to solve problems by listing them all and checking them one by one. Swimming Pool safety is no difference, suction entrapment, children drownings can all be prevented by using a similar approach

Why don’t we take that approach in our industry? We are hindered in our efforts for increased safety by special interests and fear of change - our technical problems are not particularly difficult to address. It’s NOT rocket science - we are just trying to keep pool water clean and healthy and design structures that are both aesthetically appealing, but safe.To the Pool Builder, Service Tech, Retailer and Manufacturer - Do what is right, whether it is legislated or not. Stop resisting change and understand that new innovations and ideas will continue to make your business THRIVE. Safety is a great SALES TOOL that creates a win-win for you and your customer! As well, the job is not complete when you receive the final check - it is when your customer knows how to operate equipment and maintain a safe environment. What if your last visit for "pool school" were as enthusiastic and exciting as when you were trying to sign the contract? Think about it.To the Safety Advocates - Help us all make consumers aware of preventable drowning accidents, but understand we will never achieve 0 death rate. Even if we fill in EVERY pool, the drownings will still number in the thousands every year in natural bodies of water. Let’s join forces to use our limited resources to educate pool owners, and their neighbors, on ways to prevent these avoidable drowning deaths and continue to let them build beautiful pools. Help encourage ALL STATES to require certification to operate a public pool. Many lives are at risk from RWI and other issues, and yet only 20 states require some type of Pool Operator Certification for public pools.To the State Health and Building Officials - Be sure your laws/codes are based on sound science and engineering. We all understand that many offices are understaffed/underfunded. Your jobs are not often appreciated by everyone; however, don't let tradition and habit get in the way of safety progress. Like every positive improvement in all of our lives, progress necessitates change and your codes are no different. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act allows various options. Join the APSP, U.S. CPSC, CDC, NSPF, and many more in promoting: ALL States. All Options. Don't cave in to those that pedal fear over fact. Emotionally based decisions are where most mistakes are made. See above note on Pool Operator Certifications.In close, I would like to see my children, and all children, live out the great life of my grandmother, Marie Cronise, who died in October 2008 only 5 days after this picture was taken. She lived a full life (incidentally hated water), but every child or adult that dies in a pool should be so lucky. We won’t make pools perfectly safe, but we have a lot of room for improvement.

marie cronise and grandchildren Alex Cronise, Erin Cronise, and Danner Cronise - all advocates of swimming pool safety

Let’s make a great effort in 2009 for Swimming Pool Safety! Add something below that can make a difference with YOUR customers! If I can help in any way, don’t hesitate to email or call.Ray
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  • Your comment about drownings in natural water venues is most enlightening. I began to think back and realized, although I have spent countless hours on a pool deck, as a competitive swimmer, coach, casual user, service guy, and builder, not once did I rescue someone from drowning in a pool. I have however pulled two people from a river and one from a lake.

    Regarding RWIs, I truly believe this is the next major health issue we will face. One of my best friends is a immunology researcher at the Univ. of Louisville, and he sees the number of resistant strains of bacteria etc growing constantly. The best defense against an outbreak is the prevention of one. A Certified Professional Operator is the most qualified to provide this defense. Unfortunately, our current situation is, as my Mom would put it, "There are too many cooks in the kitchen." The remaining 32 states which do not require a CPO, (my home state of TN being one), usually have 3-4 people maintaining the pool. "What did Sally do?" I assume Miles backwashed last night, he always does." "Laura, do you know what that meter is for?""No, it's always been there, I just don't pay any attention to it." "If I don't know what it does, it must not do anything"....

    The days of estimating how much of this, guessing when to do that need to end.

    Insist on a Professional, Require a Professional, Hire a Professional. Whatever it takes.

    As you said Tom, "Safety is smart business." We, as an industry, should insist on our professionals providing the first line of defense for the public. Good intentions will not raise the dead or heal the sick.
  • You are right on the button Ray. Safety is smart business, requiring training for people who care for pools is a smart idea, and science based codes is the way to go. If we could do that, your grandmother (and ours) would be proud.
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