The UK Swimming Pool and Hot Tub Industry's View on Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation
With the government push to reduce social contact and minimise non-essential travel, the range of financial measures put in place by the Prime Minister to compensate companies that may be affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a very welcome move in the right direction to support businesses. Still, the number of self-employed contractors leaves them vulnerable and more action will be needed to support them. The most recent move to require people to stay at home is also understood as being necessary for the vast majority of people, due to various reasons, most noticeably a lack of adherence to social distancing. Still, the restriction on businesses, unless they are 'essential', needs clarity, especially for the pool and hot tub industry. Various important functions are carried out which the industry would deem to be 'necessary' for health and safety, as well as for the health and wellbeing of the pool and hot tub owners. In America, the Homeland Security department have deemed their industry as 'Essential critical Infrastructure workers during COVID-19 response'.
Based on the advice issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on 23rd of March, in their publication entitled 'further businesses and premises to close' it is clear which premises should close with immediate effect. It would appear that retail premises and other places where the general public congregate are most at risk. Therefore, companies undertaking service and maintenance of items such as swimming pools and hot tubs are likely to carry less risk as there is little or no exposure between people, but Public Health guidance on social distancing should be strictly followed.
1,000 companies actively involved in the pool and hot tub industry
Therefore, the pool and hot tub industry believe that it is uniquely placed to try and assist the government through the estimated 1,000 companies actively involved in the sector. These companies (especially those in trade association membership) can support their clients.
There are an estimated 275,000 swimming pools and 500,000+ hot tubs (including inflatable spas) in the UK. Owners of these domestic swimming pools and hot tubs will be looking to ensure that their equipment stays safe and in good working order. They will be looking for professionals to provide this support.
Companies will have arrangements in place for office staff to work from home, and where possible, technical issues for customers may be able to be solved by telephone, or online. However, there will be a significant requirement for service engineers and technicians to attend site to deal with maintenance and breakdowns of pool plant and equipment to avoid possible health and safety issues, with water hygiene and electrical safety.
These pools and hot tubs require regular dosing of a sanitiser (such as chlorine or bromine) to keep the water healthy, and there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the water in these pools and hot tubs. For health and safety reasons, the UK pool and hot tub industry believe that its field-based workforce must have classification as 'essential' workers, to continue providing the vital service of chemicals and expertise so that staff can continue to be employed to help domestic customers.
The manufacturers and distributors of pool and hot tub chemicals are working with the pool trade to provide much-needed sanitisers to their clients. These sanitisers ensure the owners can look after their pool or hot tub to ensure their water is safe and free from harmful bacteria that can pose a risk to health, or even death if left untreated. The sale of these sanitisers must comply with the various applicable legislation, such as the Offensive Weapons Act, Explosive Precursors Regulations, and Transport of Dangerous Goods Regulations.
It is vital that pools and hot tubs are allowed to be maintained correctly (often this can only be undertaken by professional service engineers, rather than by the owners) so that there are no public health issues with stagnant untreated water. These service engineers should be permitted to carry out the work of maintaining filtration and circulation systems without the need for any contact with the client (to maintain at least 2 metres distance, ensuring no risk of infection). They are aware of the need to stay safe regarding handwashing and cleaning down of surfaces and the wearing of disposable gloves, mask and any other suitable PPE, so they should present no risk to their clients. They are also aware that they will not have had symptoms (e.g. new continuous cough, high temperature) nor will anyone in the engineer's household have shown Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms in the last 14 days. Without proper pool and hot tub maintenance (which includes circulation and treatment of water), various pathogens can grow, such as Pseudomonas, Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, Shigella, Legionella, etc. which pose a serious risk to health.
Please also be aware that existing pools that are full of water are safer to maintain than if they are emptied, because there may be issues with damage to the pool shell structure (from underground water pressure) if it is emptied unsafely. If it is emptied, then it may pose a greater risk of injury (from falling into the hole).
Unfinished inground swimming pool projects must be made safe. These projects pose additional safety risks with potential cave-ins, and pool shell damage which is expensive to resolve, as well as the dangers resulting from an active construction site for the homeowner and their family.
Pool and hot tub professionals are ready to play a part in maintaining health and safety
The need for health and safety should be reason enough to allow our industry to continue as an 'essential' service. However, there is also a unique situation that our industry provides the key to helping many owners with their physical activity levels and their mental health.
The Chief Executive of Sport England, Tim Hollingsworth, recently praised how governing bodies have handled the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and stated that it is more important than ever for people to stay active. With public leisure centres and gyms now closed, people will be looking at home-based activities. The owners of residential swimming pools and hot tubs will (more than ever) be seeking the health benefits of their water leisure products for exercise and wellness. For these households (with a pool or hot tub), the chance to sustain their mental health will be of great relief and can help reduce the feeling of confinement at home. Therefore, it is paramount that our industry is permitted to carry on servicing and maintaining pools and hot tubs across the UK to facilitate health and wellbeing.
With public leisure centres now closed, our industry can contribute to essential planned maintenance for health and safety reasons. There could also be an opportunity to undertake refurbishment works (when the time to do so is appropriate) in order that the facilities can be upgraded and improved for when these vital community assets are ready to be opened again to the public. To simply shut these facilities and leave them unattended would be a huge shame at a time when people will be desperate to use such facilities, once the risk of COVID-19 spreading has decreased. The use of government loans could be an excellent way to incentivise public pool owners to have refurbishment work undertaken now. Through such an initiative, this will reduce the financial impact of having to pay pool and hot tub companies for workers that would otherwise not have employment and require government support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
We will continue to listen to the government and their public health professionals to keep us all safe from the worst effects of COVID-19. Still, as pool and hot tub professionals, we are ready to play a part in maintaining health and safety, and also keeping people physically active and in a good mental condition for the challenges that lie ahead.
To read Gov.UK guidance further businesses and premises to close, click here
*This information was published on 24.03.20 and may be subject to further changes.