With the harsh winter finally behind us, here's a refreshing thought: Outdoor swimming pools will open in a couple of weeks. Community associations and their crews are bustling to get facilities in tiptop shape for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the season.
Before you jump in the water, review the following advice and best practices for a safe summer:
Check the expiration on drain covers. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, since December 2008, has required all public pools and spas in the country to be fitted with anti-entrapment covers for underwater drains. The law was named for a young girl who drowned while being held down by the powerful suction of a hot tub drain.
Pat Berk, president of Pool Watch Inc. in Roselle, cautioned: Many drain covers are manufactured with expirations on their integrity five years from the date of installation. Most community associations replaced their drain covers for the 2009 summer pool season. It's time to replace them again.
Gear up for tougher inspections. County inspectors are more diligent about enforcing the Illinois Swimming Facility Code, Berk said.
"Even though you are a private association, it's not a private pool," she said. "Association pools must abide by the commercial swimming pool codes."
The smallest of the code's provisions can have a big safety effect. For example, the lane line, which is the rope that separates the shallow end from the deep end, must be attached at all times.
"People always ask: 'Can we take the rope down so we can swim laps?'" she said. "I'm sorry, you can't. Maybe a nonswimming person slips on the slope and goes under. If the incident gets investigated, and the lane line isn't in the pool, that is negligence."
"You have to have a landline telephone for emergencies," added Ross Seymour, president of Swimming Pool Management Systems Inc. in Aurora. "A cellphone isn't enough. You've also got to have proper signage about who to contact in case of emergency."
Here's a link to the Illinois Swimming Facility Code: bit.ly/1fNyyv4.
Lifeguards versus pool attendants? State law does not require lifeguards. If you hire attendants to supervise your pool, no one younger than 16 can swim without a parent or guardian present. Some associations tightened their rules by not allowing solo swimmers younger than 18, even with lifeguards present, Berk said.
Lifeguards undergo more extensive training in safety and first aid than attendants do, Seymour said.
Protect your pool next winter with a cover. The benefits are threefold, Seymour said.
"First, no one can go in or fall into the water," he said. "Second, it saves wear and tear on the pool by 20 percent to 25 percent by keeping the leaves and dirt out, and you'll use less acid to clean it. Third, it's more attractive to look at in the winter than a dirty pool."
Karyl Dicker Foray, an insurance broker and community association specialist at Rosenthal Bros. in Deerfield, made recommendations from a risk management perspective. You won't get a discount on your premiums for following them, but if you don't, some carriers might not be willing to insure you, she said.
Here are more pool tips:
Send the pool rules to owners at the beginning of the season as a friendly reminder; confirm your alcohol policy.
Secure locks and fencing around the pool area to prevent people from entering after hours.
Make sure all warning signs are in good condition and prominently displayed.
Provide additional training in emergency response to lifeguards/attendants.