Damning review highlights pool risks
‘‘We’ve been running our whole operation on luck for how many years. We’ve been lucky.’’ Suzette van Aswegen Council chief executive
Significant health and safety issues at two community pools in the Mackenzie District have come to light after an independent review, leading to the management of both pools being outsourced.
Concerns included untrained staff handling hazardous chemicals, allowing schools use of pools without council staff or lifeguards present, and a chemical spill due to negligence.
The review by international local government consultants Xyst Ltd was to be discussed by councillors in October, but the findings around the Fairlie and Twizel community pools were deemed to be of ‘‘high risk’’ and could not wait, so they were taken to the council meeting on Tuesday, sparking robust debate.
‘‘We’ve been running our whole operation on luck for how many years. We’ve been lucky,’’ Mackenzie District Council chief executive, Suzette van Aswegen, said.
In its review, Xyst says the pools ‘‘are an area of significant risk’’.
‘‘Given the council officers have limited experience and knowledge, the risk and consequences of lapses in judgment are so significant that the current approach is not tenable,’’ it says.
Council staff agreed. General manager of operations Tim Harty said the stories he had heard relating to ‘‘health and safety issues with school children’’ which had been seen but had not been reported, were ‘‘significant’’.
Community facilities and services officer Charlotte Borrell said the review found issues relating to hazardous chemicals at both pools.
‘‘There’re lots of different chemicals in the pools and I wasn’t aware, I don’t have the expertise, but they identified some chemicals that we could have alternatives, or if we do continue to use them the staff would need to be trained,’’ she said.
Harty described the pool room at Fairlie as a ‘‘schmozzle’’. ‘‘There are chemicals stored in there that are inappropriately stored.
‘‘ Our staff just don’t know that because they don’t know what they don’t know.’’
A chemical spill occurred at the Twizel pool in January this year.
A spokesperson for the Mackenzie District Council said an employee did not put the cap properly on a 600-litre tank of pool chemicals that were ‘‘a similar kind of substance to chlorine’’.
The spokesperson said staff did not know how full the tank was, but doubted it was full.
The chemical spilt into a drain. The drain just discharges into the ground so that probably goes into a sump outside.
‘‘I don’t think it got into the stormwater, based on the reports that we got at the time,’’ the spokesperson said.
‘‘If it had found its way into the pool, or if someone had slipped and fallen in it, that would have been an issue. It was a narrow miss, but it highlighted that it’s an issue that needs fixing. We’re not qualified to run pools.’’
The review found the council allows schools use of the pools without any council staff present and with no formal contract in place to manage liability.
The schools provide their own lifeguards.
‘‘We have people using our facilities without the knowledge of how to turn things on or off, should an accident or an issue occur, and it leaves council at risk,’’ Harty said.
Council staff put forward a proposal to outsource the running of the pools to Community Leisure Management (CLM), a private company which manages pools around New Zealand, for a fixed term contract for the 2020-21 season.
Harty said this would ‘‘allow us to get a bit of a breather and see how we move forward,’’ while keeping the pools open for the season.
He said the cost of entry would remain the same and pools would operate roughly the same hours.
He said CLM would be looking to hire and train staff already running the pools. It would cost the council an additional $80,000 to hire CLM to run the two pools.
Several councillors questioned whether the cost was worth it, and whether there was an alternative.
Councillor Emily Bradbury said she knew of a Twizel resident with a history of managing pools. ‘‘I would be really resistant to move forward with CLM when we’ve got someone at our fingertips ... they are exactly what we need,’’ she said.
Councillor James Leslie said he could understand the concerns of council staff.
‘‘We’ve got to manage risk. If we can on-sell that risk to somebody else, then we should be looking to do that. CLM is the kind of organisation that will accept that risk, while an individual may or may not be able to accept that risk.’’
Harty said CLM could help the council assess the person Bradbury was referring to.
Councillor Matt Murphy was in favour of the CLM contract.
He said it made sense to be ‘‘delegating the responsibility to people who actually know what they’re talking about’’.
The council voted to award CLM a one season contract.