The first time you step into a customer’s backyard, they’ll usually explain their equipment and chemistry without much prompting. Still, it’s often worth your time to look beyond the obvious.

Many job sites contain potential accidents and lawsuits, making it important to properly handle these danger spots.

“Every time a tech visits a site, there’s a list of things I have him check,” says Mike Ryno, owner of Blue Surf Pools in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We keep a lookout for safety issues, and also for potential liabilities.”

This check-up process starts with the first site visit, before any work is performed. By being observant and taking notes, a tech can protect his or her company from work hazards, and prevent trouble down the road.

Buying damage

A pool that has turned green may look like an opportunity for profit, but industry veterans say it pays to take notes before offering suggestions. Any existing damage, whether physical or chemical, needs to be addressed now, before you even think about taking on any responsibility for the account.

“I see service techs all the time who go out and take on a new account, and end up buying a pre-existing condition that they did not cause,” says Ray Arouesty, president of Arrow Insurance Service Inc. in Simi Valley, Calif. “They take on existing damage that was caused by other technicians’ negligence.”

On the first site visit, Arouesty recommends taking a pad of paper, and walking out to the pool with the homeowner. Draw the basic shape of the pool, indicating where steps and return lines are, then mark any points in and around the pool where you notice defects. Include delamination, staining, etching and any other visible problems. Then draw a line across the bottom of the paper, and ask the customer to initial and date it. This establishes, beyond any reasonable doubt, the condition of the pool on the date you first visited it.

“I’ve seen cases where two years down the road, the customer says, ‘Look, you’ve been servicing my pool incorrectly — I’ve got etching and copper staining,’” Arouesty says. When that happens, a tech can pull out the piece of paper from the first visit and prove that the damage was already present.

Before taking on a service account, it’s also crucial to note any unsafe drain covers, unlocked gates, or other layers of protection that fail to comply with safety standards.

Hazard alerts

After establishing the condition of the pool with the customer, it’s time to investigate the site for other potential issues.

The equipment pad is a reasonable place to start. Michael Love, owner of Love Pool Care in Phoenix, says he and his techs perform a complete inventory of all pool-related equipment when they visit a site for the first time.

“If we see any electrical issues — like a wire that isn’t grounded, or a timer insulator that’s not inside the timer, which can present a shock hazard — if anything’s out of the ordinary, we definitely bring that to the owner’s attention,” he says.

Loose bonding and grounding wires are a common — and potentially lethal — hazard, as Phil Sharp, owner of River City Pool Service in Houston, once experienced firsthand.

Sharp was working on a site that had a loose bond wire, so he turned off the 200-volt power. He had just disassembled the pump, which had left a pool of water around his feet, “and when I bent down to pull that motor out, 55 or so volts came up that loose bond wire and just about knocked me out,” he says. “The jolt when you’re standing in water is three times as powerful as when you’re dry.”

It’s also important to pay attention to chemical-related hazards, especially in areas of the country where humidity runs high. “We’re down South, so we get a lot of moisture creeping into customers’ chemical containers,” says Alexander Thomas, owner of Alexander Pool Service in New Orleans.

Many chemicals, including some forms of dry chlorine, react with even small drops of water and create dangerous gases.

“I tell my guys not to stand right above a chemical container when they open it,” Thomas says, “or those fumes are going to hit you.”

Harmful fumes can also build up inside in-line chlorinators, particularly those that have been left unattended.

On the same page

Although site checks are important, it’s equally important that the information found in them be stored and tracked properly.

Ryno maintains a company-wide checklist, which he prints out and keeps in every truck.

“My techs carry hard copies of our inspection list with them whenever they visit a new job site,” he says. “We use it to go through everything that has to do with the pool — from the water level to the skimmer weir gate to the protective covering on electrical wiring.”

When techs return to the office with their checklists filled out, Ryno keeps track of each account in a file system. Thus, the next tech to visit the site will already know what to watch out for — whether it’s a loose wire or an unfriendly dog.

Some businesses have taken the checklist idea a step further, and maintain a shared spreadsheet online. When Love’s company contracts a new account, he sends his service manager out to the home to inventory all equipment, as well as the overall condition of the site.

“We keep a complete [online] record of what equipment they have, as well as when we do our filter cleans and other periodic maintenance,” he says. He even has his techs snap photos of repairs — or potential trouble spots — to share with the rest of the crew.

“Everybody in the company can access [our database] at any time,” he says.

For others though, no checklist is as trustworthy as an in-person conversation. “I talk to my guys verbally, instead of using a checklist,” Thomas says. “You can give a guy a checklist, but the reality is you can’t be sure they’re going to follow it. I think it’s better to actually watch my techs perform on the job site.”

While not every company owner may have time for this kind of personal involvement, Thomas says it keeps him and his techs working closely together — and that communication is key to effective management.