On Jan. 31, the Americans with Disabilities Act rule requiring chair lifts at most public pools went into effect. No more waiting, no more hoping for another extension. Operators at hotels, motels, municipal pools and other public sites have been scrambling to comply with the regulations.
Now that the lifts are going into place, pool owners will need to decide who will service the devices. And what kind of service will they need? Part of the ADA mandates that all equipment used for accessibility, including pool lifts, must be kept in proper working order. That part of the code hasn’t always been enforced.
“People would keep the lifts in a pump room or closet,” said John Caden, accessibility specialist at lift manufacturer S.R. Smith, based in Canby, Ore. “If someone asked for the lift, it would be set up. Sometimes if it was a battery-operated lift, the battery would be dead. Or if it was a water-pressure lift, where you have to connect a hose to the lift, the hoses would be rotted out. That’s the way it has been.”
Now, pool service companies are just starting to get ready to begin working on the lifts. “We have just started training our techs,” said Fred Ross, president of Deckside Pool Service in Orange, Calif. “We are going to have to do more training. We’ve got the manufacturer set up to do that.”
So far, there hasn’t been much call for servicing the lifts. Many were installed only recently, and for the most part, they need little maintenance. However, it’s vital that service techs add the lifts to their servicing routine at commercial pools.
Keep it regular
“I recommend that facilities have a daily inspection procedure,” Caden said. “Make sure the lift is working, check for any signs of obvious damage and keep it clean. Service techs should always consult the user’s manual. Each lift operates a bit differently.
“If you’re going to invest $5,000 to $6,000 in a piece of equipment, you don’t want to let it to deteriorate. You should maintain it like any other piece of equipment,” he said.
Servicing the lift should be a cooperative venture between a facility and trained personnel. “An onsite person at the facility should check things like seat belts daily,” said Keith Monk, national sales director of Inter-Fab, based in Tucson, Ariz. “Have a professional come in and go over the lift more thoroughly every month to three months, depending on use and whether it’s indoors or outdoors.”
Monk also recommended checking the nuts and bolts on the lift, as they can loosen over time, especially if children have been playing on it.
Putting a lift on a maintenance plan will help prevent problems. “You want to be proactive and put it on a schedule,” said Al Mendoza, president of Jupiter, Fla.,-based Commercial Energy Systems. “You want to be there twice a year to lubricate it, take care of it and spot things before they break.
“It’s like a car you don’t drive — you have more problems with something when you don’t use it. We recommend that if a lift is not used often, a facility should get it looked at regularly.” A maintenance plan will depend on the type of lift. They can be battery-operated or powered by water pressure, and they can be portable or fixed. There had been some question whether a portable lift would meet the ADA requirements. However, a Department of Justice ruling in May 2012 said that any portable lift purchased before March 15, 2012 would meet the requirement. Lifts purchased after that date should be permanently affixed to the pool deck, unless that’s not “readily achievable.”
When installing a fixed lift, care must be used. “You’ve got to saw-cut the deck and put a whole new anchor in,” Ross said. “The anchors are deeper and larger than for a typical handrail. The concrete has to be a denser kind. The anchor’s got to be bonded into the grid.”
At a moment’s notice
In either case, the lift must be ready for use at any time the facility’s pool is open. That practice exposes the lift to the elements, which can be especially harsh if the facility is near the ocean, or the lift services a salt-water pool. “We recommend users wax the lift with a car wax every few months,” Caden said. “Covers on the electronic console should be kept in place whenever the lift’s out.”
Water-pressure lifts are powered by the pressure from a hose or a line plumbed under the pool deck. If the model is powered by a hose, be sure it’s not leaking and the flow isn’t restricted, recommended Liz Waters, marketing manager of Louisville, Ky.,-based Aquatic Access. In addition, many water-pressure lifts are made of stainless steel, so they should be kept clean to prevent staining.
“Check the valves; make sure they operate freely,” Caden said. “If there are any other attachments like seat belts or foot rests, make sure they’re working correctly. If it’s an installation with the feed line under the deck, make sure the washer on the fitting is OK.”
Many lifts are battery-powered, and the battery is the component that will require the most attention from pool service technicians or whoever works on the lifts. Manufacturers recommend that the battery be charged daily. Some operators are keeping two sets of batteries, allowing one to be charged while the other is in use. Monk said batteries should last at least three years, depending on usage, before they will no longer hold a charge and will need to be replaced.
Another thing to check is the point where the battery connects to the control box. “We recommend that the contact points be checked and cleaned with isopropyl alcohol and dielectric grease be applied to the points,” said Bruce Giffen, national sales manager of Aqua Creek, based in Missoula, Mont.
The key is to be sure it’s ready for use at a moment’s notice. “The main thing is, operate the lift,” Caden said. “If there are two functions — up and down — make sure it goes up and down. If it has four functions, make sure they work. Don’t let water pool on the lift — hose it down and dry it off because of the chemicals from the pool water.” According to ADA requirements, chairs on the lifts must be able to be lowered a minimum of 18 inches below the water line. If a lift won’t do that, it’s not compliant.
When the federal government announced that it would require most commercial pools to have lifts installed, much of the pushback to the regulation came from the hotel and motel industry. Property owners said the lifts would be an attractive nuisance; that children would play on them, hurt themselves and the establishment would be held liable.
So far, there have been few, if any, such incidents. And since the intended purpose of the lift is not for diving or playing, any tech who performed maintenance on a lift would probably not shoulder liability in a lawsuit, according to Ray Arouesty, owner of Arrow Insurance Service of Simi Valley, Calif.
One thing a tech should do is make sure any lift he works on is electrically bonded. If a user were to be shocked while operating a lift after a tech made any kind of repair, there is a chance the tech could be held liable.
The requirements for pool lifts should present facility managers and pool service techs with avenues for new income. “If hotel owners use this as an opportunity, they can market to the disabled community,” Caden said. “Servicing lifts can be a tremendous opportunity for pool service companies.”
There’s already starting to be some interest shown in that arena. “We’ve had more inquiries from hotels saying, ‘Between the liability and specialty knowledge, maybe it’s time we hired someone to take care of the pool.’ They’re starting to rethink that,” Ross said. “We’ve had a lot more requests for bids from hotels than we’ve ever had, and this is part of what’s driving it.”
Not everyone is choosing to take advantage of the opportunity. “Lifts took us away from our main focus,” said Javier Payan, owner of Payan Pool Service in San Diego. Payan said his company isn’t servicing pool lifts right now.