Chemical treatment of pool water is essential in ensuring pool users and workers are not exposed to risks of infection from contamination of the water by microbiological organisms.
However, injuries can occur when critical safety rules for handling and applying pool chemicals are ignored. A recent court judgment has shown just what is at stake, after a swim school failed to maintain its pool safely.
While attending a swimming lesson, a three-year-old girl suffered severe burns after sitting in a puddle of corrosive cleaning fluid. The chemicals had been spilt by maintenance staff at the pool operated by First Strokes Swim Schools.
The girl was sat at the edge of the pool when she began to complain that her leg hurt. The girl’s mother took her to hospital, where doctors confirmed first and second-degree burn injuries. The mother reported pink bleach marks on her clothing where she had carried her daughter.
The swim school accepted a maintenance contractor had treated the pool water earlier in the day, using the school’s own supply of sodium hypochlorite. The court was told a small amount of the chemical was spilt on to the poolside, when the contractor “hand-dosed” the pool water. An unknown quantity was tipped from a 20-litre container into each end of the pool.
Costly contractor error
Prosecutors concluded that the swim school had failed to:
- Assess the pool water treatment and cleaning chemicals used at the site.
- Supervise the work of contractors properly.
NB: Anyone engaging contractors has health and safety responsibilities, both for the contractors and anyone else that could be affected by their activities.
The court also heard that it had failed to comply with two improvement notices for:
- Lack of hazardous substance control assessments (COSHH).
- Not having a safe system in place for dosing the pool by hand with treatment chemicals.
Although the swim school later provided several policy documents, they were received after the improvement notices had expired, and neither the provided COSHH assessment nor hand-dosing procedure demonstrated compliance with the improvement notices.
First Strokes Swim Schools Ltd pleaded guilty to three offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, as well as failing to comply with the improvement notices. It was fined £10,500 and ordered to pay £2,350 in costs.
The case was brought by Colchester Borough Council after an investigation by its health and safety officers. The council said: “Health and safety regulations exist for good reason, and businesses and employers have a responsibility to protect their staff and customers’ safety and welfare. As a result of failures to implement simple procedures to protect the public from exposure to hazardous substances, a vulnerable child was harmed. We will always investigate any breaches of health and safety regulations reported to us and where they meet the required legal threshold, those found to be breaking the law will be prosecuted”.
It added: “The public should be reassured that we take a very dim view of any business that fails to put health and safety first and whose actions lead to personal injury”.
Top tips for storing and handling chemicals
When maintaining your pool, it is always important to remember to be safe, especially when using chemicals, as their mishandling can cause burns as in the above case. They may also present a health hazard if inhaled. Proper safety precautions must be followed at all times.
Using common sense is a key factor in safety. Here are a few tips:
Pool chemicals should be stored in a locked area:
- Keep in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
- Minimise the different types of chemicals you store and do not buy more than you need – some of the more hazardous pool chemicals do not keep well.
- Store in their original containers and always label containers. Do not use contents of unlabelled containers.
- Keep containers closed when not in use.
- Make sure your storage area is well ventilated.
- Never store oxidisers near acid. Oxidisers coming into contact with acids will release chlorine gas.
- Do not store liquids above powders or solids. Do not stack containers.
- Do not store chemicals above head height.
- Do not store chemicals near fertilisers, herbicides, grease, paints, tile cleaners, turpentine or flammable materials. This is especially important when chemicals are stored in small storage rooms.
Pool chemicals are meant to be dissolved in large quantities of water. If mixed with small amounts of water or mixed improperly, the reaction may cause injury, dangerous vapours or fire damage. Certain chemicals used in pools will also break down over time, even if kept dry, with negative consequences.
Chemicals should only be handled by a competent person:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Wear appropriate protective equipment and clothing, such as gloves, footwear and eyewear.
- Handle chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
- Use separate, clean metal or plastic measuring cups for each chemical to transfer or measure chemicals – never use wood scoops.
- Protect chemicals from moisture and water. Keep wet hands and dirty scoops out of chemicals – contamination often causes problems.
- When applicable, always dilute chemicals by adding to water – never the other way around unless the label instructs you to do so.
- Do not put spilled chemicals back into their containers.
- Do not expose to heat or flames.
NEVER mix chemicals. All forms of acids react dangerously with all forms of chlorine or bromine. When adding chemicals to your pool, allow one to disappear before adding another.
How to manage chemical spills
Care should be taken to avoid spilling on the pool deck or ground. If any chemicals are spilt, they should be immediately cleaned up in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure that staff are familiar with emergency procedures so that they are able to act quickly in the event of a chemical spill or accident.
In need of practical guidance?
At Ellis Whittam, we help employers to simplify health and safety compliance and meet their legal duties through straightforward, practical support. If you would like expert help with handling chemicals in a safe manner that minimises the risk of harm to staff and the public, our Health & Safety specialists can conduct an on-site General Risk Assessment, which includes a section on COSHH, to evaluate your current provisions, as well as offer advice and support on effective control strategies.
We also deliver expert-led COSHH training to help anyone in your organisation involved in the handling and control of substances hazardous to health understand the legal requirements and apply them to your workplace.