I’ve just reviewed Georgia’s “pool rules”, a scintillating read.
The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) promulgates rules that apply to most swimming pools, spas and recreational water parks. The goal of the DPH rules is to minimize illnesses and injuries at these facilities.
Why would I spend a perfectly good afternoon reading a 50 page regulation? For you, my dear readers, for you.
Parents of children who have been injured come to my blog looking for information. I want to provide the information parents need to make a decision about whether legal action is proper. I also want to provide parents with the best legal analysis of Georgia’s “pool rules.”
Every legal claim starts with an analysis of what duty was violated. There has to be a violation of some duty or there is no legal claim. It’s imperative to discover what duties apply. In the context of child injuries that occur in or near water, one important source of duties is the State you live in. In Georgia the State agency that is tasked with oversight of pools, spas, and recreational water parks is DPH and a working knowledge of the rules made by that agency will help you discover what duties might apply to your situation.
(Keep in mind that DPH is not the ONLY source of duties that might apply to your situation. Many Georgia counties have county pool regulations. If you want to know if your county has county-specific regulations, you can find out here (if your county is in white it has county-specific regulations that go beyond the State regulations). Federal law creates other duties (such as the Federal Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007).
The rules and regulations created by DPH are long and complex. Most folks are not going to wade through them. Please consider this my effort to provide you with a crash course in water safety. I won’t hit upon every single rule but I will highlight those I think are most significant.
Before I jump in to details, let me alert you that the DPH rules are limited in scope – they do not apply to every body of water now existing in the State of Georgia. Some are expressly exempt: such as private pools and hot tubs/spas, apartment complex pools, country club pools, subdivision pools that are open only to residents of the subdivision and their guests, and there are a few other categories of pools/spas/baths that fall outside the scope of the application of DPH rules.
DPH rules DO apply to all other swimming pools, spas, and recreational water parks located within the State of Georgia. The rules prescribe minimum design, construction, and operation requirements that are intended to safeguard the health and safety of the public.
Here is my list of important rules that may create a legal duty and the violation of which may provide a basis for a successful legal claim:
- Barrier Hazards – All outdoor swimming pools and spas shall be provided with a barrier. A barrier is a fence, wall, building wall or a combination thereof, which completely surrounds or covers the swimming pool or spa and obstructs access to the swimming pool, spa or recreational water park. One safety purpose of a barrier is to keep unsupervised kids out. The top of the barrier must be at least four feet high. All access gates must be self-latching. Pedestrian access gates must also be self-closing. When the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 4.5 feet from the bottom of the gate the mechanism must be located on the pool side of the gate and the gate and the barrier shall have no opening greater than one-half inch within 18 inches of the release mechanism (to keep little hands from reaching through). Installation of a safety cover over the pool does not exempt a pool operator from erecting a barrier. Installation of a safety cover over a spa DOES exempt the operator from the provisions of the barrier requirement.
- Bather Load Violations – this has to with how many bodies are allowed in the pool at one time. The rules are a function of “square feet per user”. For instance, for pools with minimal deck areas (which means smaller than the pool surface area) the maximum number of people allowed in the pool at one time varies depending on what part of the pool you are considering. For shallow or wading areas there must be 18 square feet per bather. For the deep area there must be 20 square feet per bather. And for the diving area there must be 300 square feet per bather. Spas are handled differently: the maximum bather load should not exceed one person per nine square feet of surface area.
- Permitting Violations – it is unlawful for a pool to operate without a valid operating permit. Permits are invalidated by a change in ownership. An operating permit cannot be valid for longer than twelve months. The permit must be prominently displayed as close to the main entrance as practicable.
- Structural Design Violations – slip resistant surfaces are required in the pool and on the deck surfaces near the pool (all ladders/steps in and out of pools shall have treds with slip resistant surfaces), spas shall have handrails, abrasion hazards must be avoided, decks shall be sloped to prevent water pooling (minimum slope of decks must be 1/8” per foot, return inlets and suction outlets must be designed to not to constitute a hazard to bathers (bather entrapment is the concern).
- Dimensional Design Violations – beginner’s areas may not adjoin deep areas, transition points between shallow and deep sections of pools must be visually set apart with a rope and float line, depth markers, and a four inch minimum width row of floor tile, painted line or similar means of a color contrasting with the bottom. Diving areas in pools shall conform to minimum water depths, areas, slopes and other dimensions.
- Water temperature hazards – the owner/operator is required to routinely check the water temperature to ensure it does not exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Obviously what is in view here is mainly spas and heated pools.
- Warning Signs – various requirements for signage at pools and spas. Risk of fetus damage (hot water exposure in spas), risk of damage to small children and pregnant mothers (small children and pregnant women have lower hot water exposure limitations), risk of drowning warnings, risk of injury, risk of electric shock if electrical appliances are used in or near water or facilities are used during lighting storms. The words “No Diving” shall be permanently visible at the edge of the deck for water five feet (5′) or less.
- Chemicals in the Pool/Spa – The rules provide for minimum and maximum dilution rates for the chemicals used in pools and spas. Too little disinfectant and harmful organisms may be present in the water, too much and bathers can be harmed/burned. There is a section on “fecal incidents” (poop in the water) and the rules require the pool be shut down for a period of time to ensure no diseases (such as Giardia infection) are spread.
- Handholds, depth markers, rope and float lines – a handhold means a device that can be gripped by a user for the purpose of resting and/or steadying him/herself. Handholds are required around the perimeter of pools in areas where the depths exceed 3 feet 6 inches. Depth markers must be plain and conspicuous and there are a number of specific requirements for how and where they must appear.
- Lifeguard training requirements & qualifications – If lifeguards are provided they must hold up to date, nationally recognized certification. They are responsible for the safety and supervision at the pool, spa, or recreational water park.
- Lifesaving equipment – requirements include, but are not limited to, a pole not less than 12 feet long, including a body hook; a throwing rope to which has been firmly attached a ring buoy; a telephone which is hard wired and affixed (not a cell phone) with posted names and numbers for emergency personnel.
- Specials rules applying to water slides, flumes, wave pools, wading pools, zero-depth pools, falling-entry pools, etc . . . this section of the rules concerns recreational water parks. The rules in this area vary greatly depending on the type of water activity and so it is hard to summarize. Suffice it to say the owner/operator of a recreational water park has a duty to make sure staff closely monitor these activities. Wave pools that generate waves more than 3 feet in height must not continue for more than 15 minutes at a time. At all times when a water slide is open an attendant must be on duty at each falling-entry pool or runout and another attendant must be on duty at each entrance to a flume. Radio communication or some other acceptable communication method must be maintained at all times between the attendants. Only one person at a time may go through a flume on a water slide.
- Inadequate training of pool manager/operator – it is required that each pool and spa covered by these rules be maintained by properly trained individuals. One kind of training that qualifies is the National Swimming Pool Foundation’s Certified Pool/Spa Operator’s Course.
So, if your loved one has been injured or killed and you believe one or more of the rules I’ve discussed in the post were broken, please call me. A phone consultation is free. The advice I give may be a help to you as you weigh your legal options.
Also, I’ve previously blogged about this topic and if that is of interest to you, you can find it here.
Georgia Department of Public Health
Attorney Pete Pearson practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families with injured children. Many years ago, in what seems like another life, Pete was a lifeguard. His interest in water safety probably got its start way back then. He is a father to seven and lives with his wife and children near Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564 or through his main site, www.petepearsonlaw.com.