16 Lessons That All Pool Workers Must Learn
Pretty much everything in life has a learning curve to it. People who work in the swimming pool industry will learn the tricks of the trade over time, just as with any other avenue of life, but perhaps I can help to make you aware of a few of the pitfalls that you are likely to encounter.
There is no replacement for real world experience but by putting these things on your radar it might save you some unneeded pain and suffering. There is no such thing as a definitive list of everything you need to watch out for while working on pools, especially since the industry itself is very broadly separated into construction, repair, service and retail.
Keep Your Fingers Out Of Your Orifices
On top of being, you know, nasty...putting your fingers in your eyes, ears, nose and mouth is a terrible idea for people who work in and around swimming pools and spas. Kind of like how plumbers tend to not chew their fingernails, swimming pool workers should keep their hands away from their holes. That goes doubly true for any holes south of the belly button as well.
I do not want a nasty case of pink eye to be sure, but I really don't want to come down with a nasty case of pink ass! The best thing you can do for self preservation is to buy a lifetime supply of hand sanitizer and carry it with you 24/7.
Never Promise Delivery Time For Ordering Parts
Everyone who has a problem with their swimming pool is concerned with how long it will take to fix. Nobody wants to be without their pool on a hot and sunny weekend, or even worse, have the pool turn green because of downtime with the equipment. It can take a lot of work and a decent amount of money to turn a pool around once it turns green. To a pool pro that is just every day business, but to many pool owners there is stress and uncertainty involved with letting the pool chemistry go sideways.
What this amounts to is a high stress situation for pool owners and if you promise that their new part will be in soon, you assume all responsibility for the part not arriving on time. If the part does not arrive on the day you were told it would (which you have zero control over anyway) then you had better damn well hope that it arrives Friday because if it does not arrive before the weekend then that customer is going to be all over you. Any experienced pool technician knows to manage the expectations of customers by padding expected delivery dates and then over delivering when it arrives "early".
Do Not Assume Your Instructions Will Be Followed
Sometimes a pool owner needs to help get involved with the care and chemical corrections for the pool. It is not realistic for you make a trip out to the pool every 12 hours just to add the next step of the chemical correction. In situations like this you leave very detailed instructions by explaining to the pool owner exactly what they need to add, in which order, and how much time in between each stage of the correction. You then endeavor to write this down for them, even perhaps in permanent marker right on the bottle of chemicals directly.
The next time you see the pool it is still a total disaster and the customer is upset because they did "exactly what you told me to do" and it didn't work. Except they didn't do the multiple-stage correction that you explicitly spelled out for them...they had to go away for the weekend so they just dumped everything in all at once on Friday night. Since this didn't fix the pool are you going to fix it for free now?
Watch Your Step In The Backyard
From the moment I arrive at a new house I am scanning the house for signs of dogs. Chewed up shoes by the back door, dog toys scattered around, a leash attached to the front column of the house, or a water bowl casually sitting outside are all signs to keep your head down...literally. There are few things that can make you hate a new house, and new pool, more quickly than stepping in dog crap.
Almost worse than stepping in it is now you need to resist the urge to go wash your boots off in their pool while the pool owners look on in horror and the swimming children start screaming and crying as the floating brown cloud coming off your boot starts to disperse across the surface of the water...I digress. I would rather fall into a pool because I was looking at my feet than to step into a fresh malamute steamer on my way to clean out your skimmer strainer basket.
Look Away When Opening Chlorinators
Any pool technician who has worked with erosion feeders (puck feeders) knows how incredibly important it is to turn your face away and close your eyes before twisting open a chlorinator. It also is a good idea to hold your breath while doing this as well. Typically I would close my eyes and face away from the chlorinator and as soon as I crack the lid open I get up and vacate the area for a minute or two. 95% of the time it would not be a big deal and minimal, if any, chlorine gas has built up...but the other few times opening the lid is full on chemical warfare!
Chlorine gas is nothing to be trifled with, and pretty much all of us have been gassed out before, and that is how most of us learned to be wary of chlorinators. Equally as important, or even more so perhaps, is be wary when opening questionable buckets of chlorine...especially if the customer has provided the chlorine but "can't remember" how old it is.
Take Care Of Your Body
When I started in the pool industry in 1907 I was told to be careful about hurting my back and knees. What I was told specifically is that "nobody retires from the pool industry without a limp, cane, or wheelchair". While this was said in somewhat of a jesting way, the reality is that it's true. The type of work that you do in the pool and spa industry is incredibly hard on the body. PPE (personal protective equipment) is something that you just need to adopt into your day to day life working on pools. Far, far, FAR too many workers think they are too "cool" for safety equipment, or believe that they will not get hurt.
A single bad day working on pools can leave you in pain every day for the rest of your life, or blind, or dead. Be careful working on pools. Use protective safety equipment every time. Why would you risk one iota of your own personal safety for a few dollars / someone else's swimming pool? It defies all logic. Check out this article that I wrote about adopting a culture of safety in the workplace.
Don't Carry Your Phone In Your Pocket
If you are going to work on swimming pools you should probably get in the habit of leaving your expensive electronic equipment like your phone in the relative safety of the service truck. Pretty much everyone who works on swimming pools will eventually fall into a swimming pool (if not multiple times) and while this may be an embarrassing or uncomfortable situation, ruining an $800 phone in the process adds some serious insult to injury. Even if you manage to not fall into a pool with your phone in your pocket, with all the bending, crouching, lifting and reaching that you need to do while servicing pools could easily result in a cracked screen at the very least.
The latest generations of cell phones are all moving in the direction of being waterproof or at least water resistant, and a phone like this is almost certainly worth the additional cost for someone who makes their living working around bodies of water. Maybe even a life-proof case would be a good idea for those that work on the heavier, construction side of the industry.
Pack A Lunch
In the swimming pool industry it is an excellent idea to always pack a lunch with you, or at the very least carry an emergency contingency of power bars or non-perishable food in your service van. An eight hour day can turn into a 16 hour nightmare pretty quickly on a pool service route or construction site. There are few worse ways to struggle through the day than starving hungry.
Even worse is to be thirsty but fortunately when you work on swimming pools you learn how to drink out of the magic green hose so there is always unlimited water to drink so long as you don't mind drinking out of a filthy, possibly toxic, garden hose.
Carry Extra Dry Clothes With You
Young people in the pool and spa industry never seem to bring extra clothes or a bag of emergency gear like the older guys tend to. If you do this work long enough then you will eventually get stuck out in a torrential rainstorm, or be forced to work in weather that you would normally retreat to the safety of the service truck in. On days like this having a spare change of clothes can make the difference between a minor setback and a total nightmare of a day.
Having a few pairs of dry socks is a great idea and even a change of footwear if you have the room would be a good idea. Even if you have to keep working in the rain you could have some of your wet clothes drying under the heater in your truck while you keep working. Taking the time to stay as comfortable as possible at work is an experienced persons trick that the younger generation could benefit from learning.
Secure The Cargo In Your Service Truck
There is a complacency with loading and driving a service truck every working day of your life. You can easily start to take for granted the dangerous nature of the tools and chemicals that you carry with you day to day in a service vehicle. Even if you are the safest driver in the world, one day some idiot will cut you off suddenly in traffic causing you to take evasive action. If you did not secure the cargo in your vehicle then you could be in for a world of pain when this happens.
It is one thing to have a service pole, trash pump, or jack hammer come sliding forward as you mash on the brakes, but having a bunch of chemicals tipping over and mixing together is even worse. If you have gasoline, chlorine, acid, and who knows what else rolling around in the back of your truck you could have a chemical explosion and fire on your hands. Assuming the toxic fumes don't get you first. Or imagine if you are carrying 20' lengths of rebar or pipe that are loosely tied on the roof racks of your truck and a pedestrian steps out in front of you...
Customers Are Liars
This is just a reality of the world that we work in. You will be lied to all the time as a pool and spa technician. People will tell you that they backwashed the filter yesterday when it has really been three weeks. Or that their pool is losing six inches of water per day...is it really? Really?? Every pool technician knows the pain of courting a customer for the sale of a new piece of equipment that they desperately need only to find out that they went with someone else to save $5.00 and they ended up with the wrong thing, something inferior, or it looks like it was installed by a blind monkey with one arm and a serious drinking problem.
Anytime a customer tells me that they are going to do something, like call me at a specific time or day, leave the gate unlocked, remember to turn the water source on, or PAY ME, I know they are lying and I put zero stock into them actually coming through as promised. This way it is a pleasant surprise whenever they follow through...or I at least assume it will be when it finally happens.
Olympic Level High Jump & Hurdling Skills
This is one of those unique feats of human athleticism that can only be unlocked under situations of extreme duress...like a mother lifting a car off of her trapped baby. There will come a day in the pool industry when you will be working away in someones backyard and you will be confronted by a dog who is absolutely convinced that you are not supposed to be there. On this day you will find that you have rocket boosters growing out of your ass and you will effortlessly jump and hurdle ten foot tall fences.
I am not a physicist but I think that if you hit a fence at 100 miles per hour you only need about 1% upwards trajectory in order to have your momentum carry you up and over. It might not be graceful to look at, and there are no extra points for sticking the landing, but all pool workers can draw upon this athletic prowess when needed.
The Pool Parts Enigma
One of the biggest challenges associated with working on swimming pools is simply having the ability to foresee everything that you will need for the day and being sure that you have this with you. You can't bring your entire shop with you so you do your best to anticipate what might come up and pack these extra items along.
For example, if you are going to work on a pool that you have not seen before and you are bringing extra parts and pieces with you that you might need, the actual pieces that you need will be the only ones that you don't currently have. This is normal. Don't try to fight this. You might have almost every type of specialty stainless steel screw in your toolbox, except for the one you need right now. Such is the life of a pool service worker and you must learn to accept that this is the way of the universe and there is nothing you can do to change it.
How To Know What the Weather Will Be Like
Anyone who has ever planned a wedding or a concrete pour can attest to the fact that people who tell the weather have no idea what they are talking about. Mostly cloudy, chance of rain, partly sunny...their wording is chosen very specifically in order to be ambiguous. Or how about when they are flat out wrong, like there is a 0% chance of rain today but I am standing in the middle of a thunderstorm...where is the accountability? I am not allowed to be that wrong in my job!
Once you have been working in the pool industry for a few years you will be able to tell just by the look of the sky and the feel of the wind whether you are in for bad weather or not. The really experienced workers can even tell you the night before because the pain from their arthritis keeps them up all night!
Wear Gloves & Long Sleeves When Cleaning Out Filters
Have you ever noticed that your arms get covered in bumps any time that you change out the sand from inside a sand filter? Or what about cleaning the elements on a cartridge or DE filter? That reaction that you are getting is due to the disgustingly high level of bacteria concentrated here. If you really stop to think about it, which you probably shouldn't, pool filters are absofrigginglutely disgusting. Their job is to capture all of the human oils, spit, ass, hair, bird crap, and eye goo and whatever other crud ends up in the pool.
These magical ingredients then percolate inside in the filter for weeks, months or years, and then you stuff your bare arm right on in there and start scooping it out like you are looking for a prize at the bottom of a cereal box. Out of respect for yourself and your loved ones whom you presumably touch with your gross-ass hands and arm bumps, wear some gloves and some long sleeves when dealing with pool filters.
Opening Stuck PVC Unions
Opening stuck PVC unions is not so much the problem as learning how to open a stuck union without bashing the crap out of your knuckles in the process. The first part of this is to learn when to push, versus when to pull, when applying pressure to a union. Only after you have racked your knuckles into the concrete pad 1000 times will you develop the wisdom to know when to push, when to pull, and when you should reach for a tool to help you get the job done.
Sure having hands as strong as a gorilla is helpful, but even gorilla knuckles hurt when you smash them to a bloody pulp. For a great tip for how to effortlessly open stuck unions you can check out this article about how to open a sticky PVC union connection.
Joking aside, there is truth to all of the points listed on this page, but these are only a small sample of the frustrating and difficult things that you encounter while working on pools. If you have some suggestions as to other common lessons that pool workers need to learn, please email Steve with your suggestions. Once enough suggestions are collected they will be compiled into a part two followup to this article. If you enjoyed this lighthearted satire about working in the pool and spa industry then be sure to check out some of these other popular and funny articles from Swimming Pool Steve:
Job interview questions you wish you could ask pool workers
6 Things you should NEVER say to your pool guy
Customer profiles you will encounter while working in the pool industry
Common personalities that work for every pool company
Famous people who could have been great pool builders
Celebrities who would be terrible at maintaining their own pools
Common mistakes that pool owners tend to make
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