Health & Safety Law and Commercial Swimming Pool Water Treatment
If you operate a commercial swimming pool in any capacity, please take a couple of minutes (I’ve timed it) to read the following. Apologies in advance if it comes across as a lecture, it’s not meant to. Rather, it’s a plea to pool operators to consider some of the following facts and opinions.
Whilst there is no specific legislation covering the management of commercial swimming pool water, there is plenty of general legislation that is applicable.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) impose duties on all managers of non-domestic swimming pools. Duties under the HSWA extend to risks from infectious agents arising from work activities. The MHSWR provide a broad framework for controlling health and safety at work. COSHH provides a framework aimed at controlling the risks from hazardous substances, including infectious agents.
Duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.
- It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.
- It shall be the duty of each person who has, to any extent, control of premises or of the means of access or egress or of any plant or substance in such premises to take such measures as it is reasonable to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the premises, all means of access or egress available for use by persons using the premises, and any plant or substance in the premises or, provided for use there, is safe and without risks to health.
Duties Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Under these Regulations the manager of a pool is required to
- assess the risks in their workplace
- use competent help to apply health and safety legislation
- establish procedures to use if an employee is presented with serious and imminent danger
- co-operate and co-ordinate health and safety if there is more than one employer in a workplace
Approved Codes of Practice
Approved Codes of Practice (ACoP) offer practical examples of good practice and how to comply with the law. If, for example, regulations use words like ‘suitable and sufficient’ or ‘reasonably practicable’, an ACoP can illustrate what this requires in particular circumstances.
In criminal proceedings the provisions of a relevant ACoP are admissible in evidence, and a failure to observe them constitutes proof of the breach of duty or contravention of the legal duty in question, unless the accused satisfies the court that he complied with the requirement of the law in some other equally effective manner.
In civil proceedings it is likely that a failure to observe the provisions of an ACoP could constitute evidence of negligence, which would have to be rebutted by evidence to the contrary.
Guidance notes may be specific to the health and safety problems of an industry or of a particular process used in a number of industries. The main purposes of guidance notes are to:
- help people to understand what the law says
- help people comply with the law
- give technical advice
The HSE may issue a guidance note together with an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP), or independently. Guidance notes contain practical advice and sound suggestions, and are frequently more informative than the related ACoP. The HSE aims to keep guidance up to date, because as technologies advance, workplace risks and appropriate control measures change too.
Following guidance is not compulsory and employers are free to take other action but if they do follow guidance they will normally be doing enough to comply with the law.
Although guidance notes have no legal standing they can be used as evidence of the state of knowledge at the time of issue.
An example of guidance, published by the HSE and relevant to the management of swimming pools is ‘HSG179 Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools’. This document can be downloaded, free of charge from the HSE website.
A further example of guidance, published by the Pool Water Advisory Group (PWTAG) is ‘Swimming Pool Water: Treatment and Quality Standards for Pools and Spas, which has more detailed information regarding pool water treatment than the HSG179 guidance.
Enforcement of health and safety legislation in commercial swimming pools falls to two bodies, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Local Authorities (LAs).
Many commercial pools will be under the enforcement of Local Authorities. Each LA will make their own arrangements for inspections and water quality monitoring.
The enforcing authorities have the power to close a pool (Prohibition Notice) if there is an imminent risk to health. They can also require improvements (Improvement Notice) where the management of a pool is falling below legal standards.
Should You you Send Your Staff on a Pool Plant Operators Course?
As previously mentioned, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places the following duties on employers:
- …the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 places the following duties on employers:
- …every employer shall ensure that his employees are provided with adequate health and safety training.
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 places the following duties on employers:
- …every employer who undertakes work which is liable to expose an employee to a substance hazardous to health shall provide that employee with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training. The information, instruction and training provided shall include details ofthe substances hazardous to health to which the employee is liable to be exposed, the names of those substances and the risk which they present to health
- any relevant workplace exposure limit or similar occupational exposure limit
- access to any relevant safety data sheet
In addition to the legal requirements set out above, the Health and Safety Executive have produced guidance to assist pool operators to manage their pools safety. The guidance document is called HSG 179 Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools. The following is what this guidance says about training for staff:
- …relevant training will be required to provide pool operators with the necessary knowledge to effectively operate pools.
- …the COSHH regulations require that staff involved in the handling and use of chemicals should receive appropriate training and instruction. Even the most thorough arrangements to comply with the COSHH regulations will fail unless all employees are aware of the risks associated with their work and how these risks can be avoided.
- …the training for the safe operation and use of equipment and chemicals will need to be related specifically to the operation and maintenance of the particular plant, hazards associated with it, and substances used. Employees’ attention should be drawn to any manufacturers’ instructions, and copies made conveniently available (eg, secured to the plant itself); be given to enough employees to ensure that plant need never be operated by untrained staff; include pool managers, to ensure they understand the functioning of the pool water system,including the plant and associated hazards, sufficiently to supervise safe operation; include the use, care and maintenance of personal protective equipment; require those who have been trained, to demonstrate that they can operate and maintain the plant safely.
- …pool operators will need to check that staff understand and follow all procedures and responsibilities. Monitoring and review of the effectiveness of arrangements should then follow. Details of actual training sessions will need to be recorded and reviewed. Information, instruction, and training are the essential requirements for all staff involved in the storage, handling, and use of swimming pool chemicals.
- …there are many ways to disinfect a pool, and the choice can seem complicated. The key considerations are: the efficacy of disinfection; compatibility with the source water supply (for fill and make-up); type and size of pool; bathing load, etc; operation of the pool; training and competency of staff.
- …any system, whether manual or automatic, needs to be maintained. The operation, maintenance and modification of such systems need to be carried out by competent staff with appropriate training and experience. Systems to ensure this need to be devised and managed.
Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?
Yet there are many pool operators out there who simply do not have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience within their teams to be able to look after the pool in a safe and effective manner.
Us health and safety professionals often use a saying when attempting to convince key decisions makers to take health and safely seriously:
If you think health and safety is expensive…imagine how expensive an accident would be!
The impact on an organisation of an accident could run to hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds.
In conclusion, all pool operators, whether they be leisure trusts, local authorities, hotels, schools, hospitals etc. should invest in the training necessary to run the pool properly. It’s the sensible thing to do, it’s the law, and there really is no excuse not to.