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Chlorine Safety for Swimming Pool Operators

Chlorine is an effective and economical antibacterial used to destroy and deactivate a wide range of bacteria and viruses in homes, hospitals, swimming pools, hotels, restaurants and other public places. Chlorine used in pool operations is supplied in three forms:

  • Sodium hypochlorite—a liquid when in dilute form is commonly known as bleach
  • Calcium hypochlorite—a powder or tablet
  • Chlorine gas—supplied in 150-lb. cylinders

Due to the inherent hazards of chlorine-containing materials, swimming pool operators should be trained in the safe use, handling and storage of these chemicals. Training should include a discussion of the hazards, emergency response procedures, first aid and pool chemical safety rules.

Hazards of Pool-Chlorinating Chemicals

Chlorine—The health effects of chlorine are primarily due to its corrosive properties. The strong oxidizing effects of chlorine causes damage to moist tissue. Exposure to chlorine often takes place via inhalation or eye and skin contact.

  • Inhalation: Because chlorine is a gas, most exposures occur via inhalation. Low-level inhalation exposure causes sore throat, cough and eye, skin or airway irritation. At higher levels of exposure, signs and symptoms may progress to chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath and bronchospasm. Severe exposures can result in fluid accumulation in the lungs, which can occur several hours later and result in death.
  • Eye and skin contact: Low-level exposure will cause irritation while higher exposures can result in severe chemical burns or ulcerations. Exposure to compressed liquid chlorine can result in frostbite-like injuries.

Sodium and Calcium Hypochlorite—Contact with solid hyprochlorite will cause irritation to eyes and skin. Hypochlorite dust can be inhaled, which will irritate the nose and throat. Higher exposures will result in symptoms similar to breathing chlorine gas.

Additional hazards—All three of these compounds are strong oxidizers. They are not explosive or flammable by themselves, but they will support and increase combustion. They also have the potential to react violently with organic materials, such as oil and grease from air compressors, valves and pumps or wood and rags from maintenance work, resulting in fire.

Basic Pool Chemical Safety Rules

  • Always read product labels and follow manufacturer's instructions
  • Store each chemical separately in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place away from incompatible chemicals
  • Make sure only people trained to use the chemicals have access to them
  • Avoid chemical mixing and never mix chlorine with any chemical—add each to the pool separately
  • Do not mix old chemicals with fresh chemicals, even if they are the same type
  • Consider separate, designated tools for each chemical
  • Avoid breathing fumes or vapors
  • Wear personal protective equipment as listed on the label or safety data sheet (SDS)
  • Don't buy more pool chemicals than you'll use in a season as they lose effectiveness over time
  • Use the entire product before disposing of the container
  • Keep spilled materials isolated and follow label directions for cleanup and disposal; do not put spilled materials back in the original container
  • Do not dispose of spilled material or unused product in the trash or sewer and do not use floor-sweeping compounds when cleaning up pool chemicals
  • Do not store liquid materials above solid materials to prevent accidental leaking and mixing; solids can be stored above liquids
  • Do not allow product to contact oil, grease, acid or organic material
  • Do not store pool chemicals near heat sources or flames, and do not smoke near pool chemicals
  • Do not use dry chemical fire extinguishers (large volume water only)

First Aid for Chlorine Inhalation

  • Prompt action is essential; remove the exposed person to fresh air and get professional medical assistance immediately
  • If the victim is not breathing, begin CPR as soon as possible
  • If breathing, place the victim in a comfortable position—either seated in a chair or lying down with the head and body trunk elevated at a 45- to 60-degree angle.
  • Encourage the person to take slow, deep, regular breaths; administer oxygen as soon as possible
  • Keep the person warm and at rest

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