Millions of people around the world cheered on champion swimmers at the Rio Olympics this week as they broke new records and earned gold medals. If Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and other world-class swimmers have you inspired, you can dive into your Olympic dreams at a public pool.
Public pools are a great community resource where people of all ages can learn to swim, improve their fitness, make new friends or just cool off on a hot day. Many pools host swim lessons, coaching and swimming leagues to help everyone from beginners to competitors enjoy the water.
What you can do to swim safely
Whether you are mastering the doggy paddle or perfecting your backstroke, here’s what you can do to stay healthy and safe while you swim.
Check for signs of a safe pool
- The water should be clear
- Drain covers at the bottom appear to be secured and in good repair
- Sides of the pool should be smooth
- Water should have very little odor
- You should hear pumps and filtration systems operating.
- Pool safety rules should be posted
- Check for a lifeguard – even Olympians need a lifeguard!:
- If on duty, a lifeguard should be focused on the swimmers and not distracted.
- If no lifeguard is on duty, a “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign should be posted.
- If no lifeguard on duty, check to see where safety equipment, such as a life ring or shepherd’s crook, is available.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about the staff’s level of training for pool operation. Are chemical levels checked daily? What was the chlorine and pH level when last it was checked? How did the pool score on its last health inspection?
- You can even check the water pH and chlorine yourself.
- If you have concerns about your public pool’s maintenance or safety, ask to speak to a manager or contact DHEC’s Recreational Waters Division at Abellt@dhec.sc.gov or (803) 898-4255.
Prevent the spread of germs
- Avoid getting water in your mouth or swallowing pool water. Whenever you are immersed in a body of water, whether that be a pool, pond or the ocean – you are likely coming into contact with a variety of organisms, chemicals or bacteria that could impact your health.
- Shower before and after swimming and wash your hands after using the bathroom.
- Take children for bathroom breaks and check diapers frequently.
- Change diapers in the bathroom – not at poolside – and don’t forget to wash your hands.
- Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or nausea.
- Don’t swim if you have open wounds or lesions.
- Don’t spit in or blow your nose in the pool.
- Don’t enter the pool if you have skin, eye, ear, or respiratory infection.
- We hate that we have to say this, but please don’t pee or poop in the pool.
Prevent accidental injury
- Always have someone with you when swimming, even if it is a family member or friend.
- Keep a close eye on young children around water and pay attention to signage as it can point out hazards you might never have considered.
- Always use sunscreen (at least SPF with both UVA and UVB protection) to guard against sunburn and skin cancer.
- Follow posted safety signs – don’t run, don’t dive into shallow water, don’t swim alone or in the dark, don’t swim or sit near drains, don’t swim if you are intoxicated.
- If you hear thunder or see lightning, exit the pool immediately to avoid risk of electrocution. Don’t return to the water until 30 minutes after the last roll of thunder.
DHEC inspects 8,000 public pools and splash pads at hotels, gyms, parks, residential communities and spas across the state. Pool inspectors test water quality for proper chemical levels, make sure all required safety equipment is present and meets required standards, and make sure the overall operation and maintenance of the pool is in compliance with state regulations. The agency also provides public pool operators and managers with technical assistance to help educate them about proper pool maintenance.
DHEC requires that any Public Swimming Pool open and operating in SC must have a free chlorine residual of 1.0-8.0 parts per million (ppm), a pH level of 7.0-7.8, and a cyanuric acid level below 100 ppm.
At Natural Swimming Areas where swimming is promoted, the DHEC requires testing of the water twice a month to determine if the E. Coli level exceeds 349 colonies per 100 ml. If any samples show that it does, the Natural Swimming Area will be closed until a sample is provided to DHEC that shows the water is again safe for swimming.
If DHEC finds a public swimming pool is out of compliance with health and safety regulations during an inspection, the pool will be closed to protect swimmers’ health until it returns to compliance. Sometimes the issue can be resolved quickly and the pool can reopen later the same day.
Because inspectors can’t inspect every pool every day, public swimming pool operators are responsible for checking the pool on a routine basis and are required to close the pool if they find a problem that could negatively impact swimmer health or safety.
For more information on swimming safety, visit www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/
For more information on DHEC’s pool and recreational waters program, click here.