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Swimming pool accidents: Chlorine levels and burns

Swimming is a fantastic way to keep fit and a popular activity for families across the UK. Not only is it a great way to keep fit, it also helps you to relax, and the last thing on your mind when you’re at the swimming pool is being injured. But swimming pool accidents can and do happen, and most of us don’t think about the safety risks involved in using a swimming pool on a regular basis. Chlorine levels and burns are one concern – do you know that the chlorine levels in your local swimming baths are safe? We take these things for granted until the worst happens, but you could actually sustain serious chemical burns or contact dermatitis if chlorine levels in your local pool are not properly monitored.

The good news is that you may be able to make a personal injury claim if you or your child have suffered from this type of skin injury after swimming at a pool in your area, and Accident Advice Helpline could help you.

Swimming pools in the UK

We are lucky that here in the UK there are strict regulations regarding levels of chlorine and general safety in our swimming pools – in other parts of Europe and the USA, the law is not so strict. As well as the risk of high chlorine levels and burns when you go to your local pool, there are other risks you need to be aware of; these include:

  • Risk of drowning
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Diving accidents
  • Food poisoning (for example in the leisure centre canteen)
  • Collisions with other swimmers
  • Skin irritation
  • Changing room accidents

If you’ve been injured whilst at a swimming pool, it’s important to speak to the management to report your accident, as they’ll normally need to keep a record of it.

What is chlorine and what is it used for?

Chlorine chalk is used to maintain bacteria levels in swimming pools, and when it comes into contact with water it turns into chlorine bleach. This bleach kills bacteria in indoor and outdoor pools, but care must be taken as it can cause frostbite if the undiluted liquid comes into contact with skin, or serious burns if it is not diluted properly. It’s also possible to suffer from a chlorine allergy or irritant contact dermatitis when your skin comes into contact with chlorine in pool water, with an itchy skin or rash that can be incredibly painful. There have even been cases where children have been sent to A&E following exposure to chlorine gas – at one indoor pool in Chicago, several children were admitted to hospital with blisters on their face, skin irritation and breathing issues due to poor ventilation at the pool.

In 2012, 70 people were admitted to hospital in Canada after an incident involving chlorine gas at a local pool. Used in the correct quantities and handled carefully, the risks of chlorine are minimised, and it’s vital that employers adhere to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

How to manage chlorine levels and burns in your local pool

The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group and the HSE have released codes of practice and policies relating to health and safety at swimming pools in the UK, and there is certainly a lot of guidance for swimming pool operators to follow. Incorrectly mixing chemicals could cause the production of hazardous chlorine gas or even an explosion, whilst using higher than recommended levels of chlorine in pool water could lead to risks to bathers and employees. The COSHH Regulations 2002 state that only competent people should handle hazardous chemicals, and it is vital that these people have received the training they need to handle chlorine and other chemicals safely. With regards to chlorine levels in your local swimming pool, recommended chlorine levels for UK public pools are 1.0-1.5ppm. But it’s important that chlorine levels are regularly checked and maintained.

That’s because contaminants in pools ‘use up’ the existing chlorine, and the more people that swim in the pool, the more chlorine will be needed due to pollution from sweat and other contaminants in the water. Chlorine levels and burns can go hand in hand, and if you have suffered chemical burns after swimming at a pool, the operator could be held liable.

What happens if you’ve suffered chlorine burns?

If you sustain chlorine burns then your skin may be hot, blistered, tingling or numb – you may even suffer ulcerations which begin to leak pus. If you have sustained chlorine burns after swimming, you should remove all clothing and take a cold shower as soon as possible. Gently clean your skin with soap to remove all chlorine and take over-the-counter painkillers if needed, to relieve pain. If you have swallowed chlorine or it is in your eyes, seek immediate medical attention at hospital. More serious burns or irritation should also be checked out with a visit to your local hospital’s A&E department.

Treatment for burns usually involves the application of cream but in serious cases surgery or even skin grafts could be needed – you could even suffer permanent scarring if your burns are particularly severe. There have been cases where children have sustained serious first-degree chemical burns at pools in the USA, resulting in treatment in hospital, but even if your injuries are more minor, you could still be entitled to claim personal injury compensation.

I’ve suffered chlorine burns on holiday – can I claim compensation?

In 2003, three young girls from the UK suffered chemical burns after swimming in a pool on holiday in Tenerife, which was later found to contain five times the safe level of cyanuric acid, a chemical used to regulate levels of chlorine. The girls needed skin grafts and were left with permanent scars following the incident, a reminder than chlorine levels and burns, as well as the other levels of chemicals in pools, are a serious matter. If you’ve been injured after swimming in a pool on holiday, you could claim compensation with Accident Advice Helpline, provided you booked a package holiday through a UK tour operator. Companies in the UK are responsible for your health and safety abroad, but if you booked your holiday independently, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to claim.

Claiming compensation for chlorine burns

To find out if you could be eligible to claim compensation for incorrect chlorine levels and burns, you can get in touch with Accident Advice Helpline within three years of your accident. Just call us on 0800 689 5659 to see if you have a viable claim.