PSOP – Pool Safety Operating Procedures

PSOP stands for Pool Safety Operating Procedures. They are a suite of documented Normal Operating Procedures (NOP) and Emergency Action Plans (EAP) for a commercial swimming pool.

Commercial swimming pools can be complex, and the water treatment system will certainly involve some highly hazardous substances. There is much that can go wrong. There have been numerous emergencies in the UK related to the poor management of commercial swimming pools.

Therefore, the swimming pool and associated plant and facilities (such as the changing rooms, showers, pumps, filters etc.) should only be operated and managed according to a robust set of procedures that have been devised by the swimming pool management following a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the hazards and risks that are present.

In the event of a serious incident, the enforcing authorities investigating the causes will certainly be asking the pool management for copies of their PSOP, so the importance of this document should not be underestimated.

Some of the main inputs into the PSOP are:

  • Risk assessment
  • O&M (Operation and Maintenance) Manual
  • Accident and incident records and investigation reports
  • Feedback from staff
  • Industry guidance
  • Relevant legislation and Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs)

HSG179 Managing Health and Safety in Swimming PoolsThe Health and Safety Executive refer to the PSOP in its guidance document ‘HSG179 Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools‘.

Staff Training in the PSOP

For the PSOP to be of any practical value, it is important that all staff are aware of the procedures it contains. It’s not going to be of much use if the PSOP is just a document gathering dust on a shelf in the managers’ office and nobody is aware of it.

The PSOP should be issued to every member of staff, perhaps as part of their induction process. But it’s important that training goes beyond just issuing the PSOP and expecting staff to thoroughly read and understand it.

The PSOP should form a key part of the ongoing site-specific training programme for staff. It should be referred to during team meetings and staff training sessions. Staff should be regularly tested to make sure that they know the procedures well. It would be too late to refer to the PSOP should a real emergency happen!

Hirers and Contractors

It’s not only internal staff that need access to the information contained in the PSOP. It should also be distributed to key other stakeholders, such as hirers of the facility and contractors, so that they can use the information to coordinate their activities safely.

For example, a swimming club should have its own policies and procedures covering its own activities. But those activities take place within the facility, so there needs to be a good level of cooperation and communication in order to ensure that activities are well coordinated.

Likewise, contractors will be bringing their own activities and associated hazards with them onto the site, but may not be fully aware of the existing hazards and risks that they may well be interfacing with. For example, an electrician installing a new lighting circuit in the plant room may be working in close proximity to highly explosive substances!

Normal Operating Procedures

These procedures set out how the pool should operate under normal day-to-day conditions. They might sometimes be referred to as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in some organisations, but they both generally mean the same thing.

The following types of information should be included:

  • Features and equipment (such as flumes etc.)
  • Rescue equipment
  • Location of pool alarms
  • Floor plan of pool and pool hall
  • Potential hazards
  • Access and restrictions
  • Bathing loads
  • Diving policy
  • Vulnerable swimmers
  • Lifeguarding procedures
  • Pool Rules
  • Cleaning procedures
  • Hiring procedures
  • Accident reporting

Emergency Action Plans

These set out the actions to be taken for the range of reasonably foreseeable emergency scenarios.

Examples of emergencies that should be included in the Emergency Action Plan are listed below, and some are discussed in more detail later:

  • Fire
  • Gas escape
  • Chemical spill
  • Structural failure
  • Bomb threat
  • Power failure
  • Pool rescue
  • Evacuation of disabled users
  • Overcrowding
  • Contamination of pool water
  • Disorderly behaviour
  • Sexual assault
  • Flooding

Fires and Explosions

The risk of fire and explosion in pool plant rooms is particularly high. This is due to the chemical properties of the chemicals involved. A thorough and robust fire and explosion risk assessment must be carried out. Good prevention management strategies, including training of staff, correct storage of chemicals etc., will go a long way to reducing the risk.

Emergencies should be thought about in advance, and procedures for dealing with them should be practised regularly. The fire service will need to be made aware of the chemicals that are stored on the premises. It would be a good idea to prepare a file in advance to hand over to the fire service in the event of an emergency.

Monitoring and Review

Busy commercial swimming pools will be affected by changes, just like any public building. New staff, updated industry guidance, new facilities and equipment etc. Things rarely stay the same for long. Therefore, the implementation and effectiveness of the PSOP should be monitored regularly. It needs to be kept up-to-date and actually used in practice. It should not be a document that is created merely to ‘tick the box’ and make it appear as though there is a robust set of procedures in place.

Every incident that happens on-site provides an opportunity to review the PSOP and find out whether it worked as planned, or if weaknesses are revealed that need to be improved.

For example, when the fire alarm goes off, and the building is evacuated, did the evacuation follow the relevant Emergency Action Plan (EAP)? If not, what went wrong? Is the EAP incorrect or out of date? Or is the procedure correct, but nobody knew of its contents, perhaps because of a lack of training? It’s important to make the most of these opportunities to scrutinize the PSOP and fix any issues, as it could prevent a more serious incident from happening in the future.