The current state of affairs
The relationship between condominium/townhouse associations and their swimming pools has become more and more complicated over the last three to four years. Many factors have contributed to this complexity, which include: The federal Virginia Graeme Baker Act (VGB), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the requirement of Certified Pool Operator status and the more active policing role played by the Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH). The IDPH has closed many a pool for failure to meet the minimum requirements of the VGB code, and safety seems to be at the top of the list for IDPH enforcement agents. Trying to learn all code requirements for swimming pools can appear to be a daunting task, as those who take care of the pool without the help of guards or attendants can attest.
IDPH and Cook County are looking closely at existing facilities to determine code compliance, and have begun to levy fines on properties deemed to not to have met minimum code requirements. Additionally, these agencies are issuing monetary fines for properties for not completing the minimum repairs required to meet the code in a timely
fashion. The agencies have historically been noting these warnings on the inspection reports, and are now turning to enforcement for laggards. The associated fines are generally assessed on a per diem basis, and will add up quickly if not addressed.
Many association pools are granted "grandfather” status, thereby reverting to past code requirements for compliance. Every issue is not necessarily covered under this exception, however, and certain renovation projects may require the association to bring additional seemingly unrelated safety items up to current minimum standards. It is important to understand that while some renovation work does not require a IDPH permit, most work done on the swimming pool actually will. For example, IDPH will require a permit for any changes to existing equipment unless it is an exact replacement. This is true even if the existing equipment is undersized, or incorrectly installed. It is the responsibility of the association to make sure all permits have been obtained and all
inspections have been completed.
Basic items to ensure compliance
Pool barriers such as fences need to be kept in proper structural condition to avoid being written up during a licensing inspection by IDPH. The maximum allowable distance between the ground and the fence is 4”. This is also the maximum distance allowed between any openings in height and width. Any type of gate or door that is not a locked service entrance will need to be self-closing and self-latching.
IDPH requires several items that need to be available at all pools while the pool is open for use. These include: proper signage, an emergency phone, a working drinking fountain and required safety equipment (including a Coast Guard approved ring
buoy with throw rope, life hook with 12’ pole and a first aid kit). The safety equipment needs to be mounted on the deck and accessible for all patrons.
For everyone’s safety the pool deck and pool structure should be inspected regularly. Decks will sometimes sink over time. A deck that has sunk or has large cracks in the concrete will result in a trip hazard. The interior of the swimming pool is also an area that can become a danger to patrons. Cracked and chipped tile, peeling paint and delaminating plaster can all be sharp, causing cuts and scrapes. The coping on top of the pool wall above the tile can also crack and chip. All deck equipment should be checked to assure that it is properly secured to the pool deck.
Proper pool chemistry is one of the most important safety concerns for every pool. Chlorine and pH need to be checked twice a day every day that the pool is open. IDPH has daily forms that need to be filled out by the person doing the testing. Cook County requires that a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) oversee that all chemical checks are done properly. IDPH has not adopted this rule yet but may in the future. If it does, a CPO will be required to oversee the operation of each pool.
How can our association hit the target?
For properties that do not desire to put the on-site maintenance person through the rigors of a CPO certification program, there is a viable alternative. Many pools have made an attempt to bring in outside consultants in the form of Pool Management and/or Professional Swimming Pool Service companies to help them comply with the new codes. These companies supply professional service technicians, lifeguards and/or pool attendants whose job it is to clean the pools, check chemicals and filter operation, monitor and complete repairs and renovations as needed, and keep an eye on patrons to assure a safe environment for all pool visitors. A knowledgeable and competent commercial pool professional can help the association safely navigate the increasingly murky waters of modern municipal safety compliance.