ABU DHABI // Public and private swimming pools will have to adhere to new regulations within the next few months, the municipality says.
There are about 1,000 pools in the emirate and existing laws already dictate how they are managed, safety measures, penalties for noncompliance and owner responsibility.
"Abu Dhabi Government has already signed the law which [regulates] swimming pools and we are expecting the government to sign the Executive Regulation by the first quarter of the year," said Khaleefa Al Romaithi, the public health director at Abu Dhabi Municipality.
Mr Al Romaithi did not give specific details about the new regulations, but failing to adhere to them will result in fines of between Dh200 and Dh100,000, he said. His department can also shut pools.
The Olympic-sized pool at the Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel attracts hundreds of swimmers every day.
"Having an Olympic-sized pool demands Olympic standards," said John Noronha, the environmental, health and safety manager at the club.
The daily cleaning process requires the pool to be "vacuumed" and the water chemically tested. The water is also tested every hour for contaminants.
Both the Olympic and children's pool are tested for total plate count - to determine how hygienic the water is - and total coliform count , which checks the level of faecal contamination.
There are also tests for E.coli, pseudomonas aeruginosa - a bacteria that can cause serious infection in those with compromised immune systems - faecal streptococcus and legionella, the bacteria that causes the pneumonia-like Legionnaires' disease.
"The pool is cleaned during the night, from midnight until about three or four in the morning," said Sajeev PV, the executive supervisor of recreation.
Whether inside or outside, it is easy to tell if a pool is not maintained properly, Mr Sajeev added.
"The water becomes thick. And sometimes, if a pool is not cleaned, people will get a cold and cough."
Dirty water is a hotbed of infection and disease, said Dr Mushtak Al Saadi, a family medicine specialist at the Al Bandar branch of the HealthPlus Family Health Centre.
"The most common [infection] is diarrhoea, but jaundice and hepatitis A can also [spread]," he said, and faecal contamination is the most likely factor in spreading germs.
Otitis externa - better known as swimmer's ear, which leads to swelling and redness of the external ear canal - and skin infections can also result from swimming in an unclean pool.
The Officers Club pool also undergoes regular spot checks from Abu Dhabi Municipality employees, who test their own water samples.
While the pool at Abu Dhabi Country Club is less busy, the level of care employed in keeping it clean is as high, said Oxana Yakubna, the front-office manager.
The adult, children's and indoor pool have chlorine pH levels checked three times a day.
Ramona Matei Demea, a supervisor at the Officers Club pool, said the public often disregarded important health precautions, such as showering before entering the pool.
"It's important because you are coming from outside. The temperature of the body is different [from the pool water]," she said. "It's for blood circulation, it is healthy. It's not [just] about bringing in contamination, it's about health."
Swimmers should also inform lifeguards of any conditions such as epilepsy, Ms Demea added.
"Sometimes they go to the jacuzzi [and are epileptic] and they faint." People will also try to enter the pool with open wounds, she said.
Dr Al Saadi agreed that personal hygiene was the most important consideration.
"We do not get the bacteria in the water from nowhere - it comes from us. From people using a swimming pool. Even the best disinfectant cannot kill all bacteria."
Public pools in Abu Dhabi should also be manned by lifeguards. There are six lifeguards at Abu Dhabi Country Club, with three – not including pool attendants – assigned to each shift, said Ms Yakubna. All staff are appropriately trained, she said.
Even after the last swimmer has left – the pool closes at 8pm – the lifeguards stay until 11pm, when the nearby restaurant closes.
Drowning is said to be the third leading cause of accidental death among children in the UAE.
"You are in charge of a life," Ms Yakubna said. "It’'s not just come, finish your duty, and that's it."