Pool Chemical Safety

Pool chemicals, such as chlorine and bromine, are added to treated venues such as aquatic therapy facilities, community pools, hot tubs/spas, and water playgrounds to protect swimmers from the spread of germs and prevent outbreaks. Pool chemicals can cause injury if they directly contact a person’s skin, eyes, or respiratory or digestive system. Such injuries may occur from direct chemical contact with the skin or if chemical dust in the air contacts eyes, is inhaled, or settles on food. Proper pool chemical knowledge can also limit public exposure to recreational water illnesses (RWIs). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RWIs are from bacteria and other germs spread by swallowing, inhaling, or making skin contact with contaminated water. Constant and diligent pool chemical monitoring is an effective safety measure to reduce the amount of RWI outbreaks in pool venues.

Other pool chemicals, like pH control, improve water quality, stop corrosion and scaling of equipment, and protect against algal growth. However, pool chemicals can severely injure people when mixed or when personal protective equipment (PPE) is not used when handling them. An easy way to communicate and train your employees on pool chemical hazards and PPE is by using a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA). A JSA/AHA outlines the potential hazards and recommended controls to ensure your employees stay safe at work.

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According to the American Chemistry Council, there are more than 4,000 visits to U.S. emergency rooms because of preventable accidents caused by the mishandling of pool chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) highlights chemical wetting and improper chemical mixing as the most common pool chemical mistakes.

Chemical Wetting

Even a tiny amount of water splashed on pool chemicals may trigger a strong chemical reaction. Although pool chemicals are usually packaged in plastic bags, accidents have occurred when water leaked into damaged or open containers. Possible sources of water coming into contact with pool chemicals include:

  • Rainwater from a roof leak or an open or broken window;
  • Wet floor when the stored chemicals were not elevated off the floor;
  • Leakage from fire suppression sprinkler system; or
  • Hose-down water generated during area cleanup.

Improper Chemical Mixing

Intentional or accidental mixing of incompatible chemicals will likely lead to a chemical reaction that may generate temperatures high enough to ignite nearby combustible materials. Mixing can also lead to the release of highly toxic and corrosive chlorine gas. The mixing of pool chemicals with completely unrelated materials such as swept material from the floor, oily rags, and other miscellaneous materials have been known to cause strong reactions with the potential for a resulting fire. Improper chemical mixing incidents have occurred when:

  • Tools and equipment used to handle one chemical were used with a different chemical before being cleaned;
  • Spilled substances (e.g., from damaged containers or sloppy handling) and other miscellaneous substances on floors were swept up together and mixed; and
  • Containers, residues, or wastes are disposed of, resulting in accidental mixing in disposal containers or at waste disposal sites.

The key to avoiding employee injuries at pool venues is prevention! Make sure your employees are familiar with their Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Assessment (JHA) prior to starting their workday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) along with the Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO) published the Safe Storge and Handling of Swimming Pool Chemicals ALERT to help educate employees and prevent chemical accidents at pool venues. The U.S. EPA and CEPPO listed the following hazard controls for employers to consider when their employees are handling pool chemicals:

  • Keep Pool Chemicals Dry - Employers should design and maintain designated areas for pool chemical storage to keep water out. You should look for ways to prevent water contact with stored pool chemicals such as:
  • Close containers properly;
  • Cover opened or damaged packaging;
  • Store chemicals away from doors and windows;
  • Ensure that there are no roof leaks, open or broken windows, or leaks from water pipes, hoses, or the sprinkler system;
  • Ensure that floors are sloped to keep water drained away;
  • Store chemicals on shelves or pallets to keep containers off the floor;
  • Exercise particular caution to prevent water contact with stored chemicals any time water is used for cleanup of floor areas near stored packages; and
  • Ensure that water will not back up from faulty or clogged floor drains.
  • Avoid Chemical Mixing - Employees can prevent unintentional or accidental mixing of pool chemicals by following the tips below:
    • Separate incompatible substances; avoid storing containers of liquids above containers of other incompatible substances;
    • Do not mix old chemicals with fresh chemical, even if they are the same type;
    • Consider separate, designated tools for each chemical. Handle only one chemical at a time and make sure that tools used with one substance are not used with another unless all residues are removed;
    • Use separate, designated containers for cleanup of spilled materials to avoid inadvertent mixing of spilled substances; and
    • Don’t allow rags, trash, debris, or other materials to clutter hazardous material storage area. Keep combustible and flammable substances away.
  • Pool Chemical Best Management Practices -
    • Consider development of work practices (Job Safety Analysis or Activity Hazard Analysis) to minimize accidental contact with pool chemicals;
    • Provide a means of ready access to water (e.g., safety showers, eye wash stations, etc.) for removal of chemicals that may accidentally contact employees;
    • See that PPE is kept clean, in proper operating condition, and available for use when needed and that the following practices are observed: Use basic PPE including, as a minimum, chemical goggles and liquid impervious gloves, and boots for any chemical handling activities. For frequent or extended chemical handling activities, add a face shield and liquid impervious apron or coveralls to the basic PPE;
    • Consider appropriate first aid and coordinate with local first responders and medical professionals for treatment of accidental exposure until professional medical treatment can be provided;
    • Avoid accidental ingestion by storing and consuming foods and beverages away from chemical storage and handling locations, and ensure that employees wash before eating, drinking, etc.; and
    • Post the numbers for the local emergency responders, and medical practitioners that are familiar with the appropriate treatment for the chemical present.

The Water Quality & Health Council promotes the CDC’s free laminated pool chemical safety posters that are available in English or Spanish. The CDC posters list important guidelines for safely using and storing pool chemicals. Another free resource is the online and smart phone-friendly Pool Chemical Safety Video produced by the American Chemical Council and Chlorine Institute.

Employers are responsible for knowing and understanding the hazards associated with pool chemicals and ensuring that the chemicals are safely stored and handled. These hazardous substances are capable of being safely handled day-after-day through a safety management system that ensures that good, written procedures are prepared, posted, and followed by trained employees. As you prepare your next Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) for treated pool venues, pool chemical safety may be an essential part of your hazard assessment. A JSA worksheet will help workers identify pool chemical hazards and determine what controls and safety procedures can be implemented. For JSA software to aid in creating JSA worksheets and activity hazard analysis forms, visit @JSABuilder.

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Images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazards. Again, consult your safety professional to obtain authoritative opinions on applicability, selection and fitting of all the various types of PPE, then work smart and safe.