Damn­ing re­view high­lights pool risks

The Timaru Herald - - Front Page - Char­lie O’Man­nin

‘‘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.

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