National Quality Standard – Recreational Facilities in Ireland

The White Flag Award

The National Quality Standard (previously known as the White Flag Award) is a Leisure Centre & Hotel Leisure award encompassing Safety, Hygiene, Customer Engagement & Human Resources.The award is aimed at swimming pools, sports halls, gymnasiums and other indoor leisure facilities throughout Ireland. This award is based on the international Blue Flag award scheme and emphasises high standards in both environmental activities and hygiene.

The White Flag award scheme was launched in 2001 and is run by ILAM Ireland (Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management Ireland Ltd). Eighty-six leisure facilities throughout Ireland were awarded the White Flag in 2004. (This covers the period 2003 to 2004).


Criteria for award

Facilities that can apply for the award must meet the following criteria:

  • Facility exterior and grounds
  • Facility interior
  • Pools
  • Operations
  • Environmental management
  • Education and information
  • Water quality and treatment.

Facility exterior and grounds

There must be safe and easy access to the facility with adequate signposting and the facility exterior must be well presented and well maintained.

Facility interior

The facility’s reception areas, viewing areas, changing areas and activity areas must be well presented, clean and free of litter. The facility must have adequate changing rooms and sanitary facilities, including provision for users with disabilities, and nappy changing facilities. Suitable, sufficient, hygienic and soundly constructed sanitary facilities should be available exclusively for swimmers, as outlined in Swimming Pool Water, which is published by the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG). There must be a proper hygiene plan to cover cleaning programmes, schedules and monitoring regimes. Saunas, steam rooms, solaria and sun bed facilities must meet the appropriate health and safety standards in accordance with guidelines set out in the Health and Fitness Operators Guide, which is published by ILAM Ireland (Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management Ireland Ltd). All catering facilities must meet the appropriate health and safety standards.


The facility should have pre-swim showers for pre-pool entry, together with a sign encouraging swimmers to shower before entering the pool area. Spa pools must meet the standards as laid down in “Swimming Pool Water”, including the specification for Design Bather Capacity. Lifeguard cover must be provided in accordance with the recommendations contained in “Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools” (Health and Safety Commission, UK). In addition, all lifeguards must hold a nationally recognised lifeguard qualification.


The facility must have an effective cleaning programme in place that takes in all aspects of the facility. Staff must be fully trained in the operation of the cleaning programme and the programme must be properly audited and reviewed. The facility must have a formal Emergency Action Plan (to be submitted as part of the application for the award) in relation to spillages and gross pollution incidents in dry, wet and pool areas and all potential emergency situations, taking into account the recommendations made in “Swimming Pool Water”. The Emergency Action Plan must be submitted as part of the facility’s application for a White Flag award. The pool plant room must be kept in a hygienic condition and there must be at least one trained, certified pool plant operator among the facility’s full-time staff. Finally, the facility must have a suitable storage area for cleaning materials and all chemicals must be stored appropriately.

Environmental management

Refuse collected in the facility must be disposed of at a licensed facility. There must be suitable storage and collection of dangerous wastes, such as disinfectant chemicals. The facility must have measures to minimise energy consumption and must have an environmentally sound purchasing policy to cover cleaning detergents, stationary, equipment, etc.

Education and information

There must be at least one full-time staff member nominated as facility representative for the White Flag award and contact details for this person must be on display in the facility. The facility must have a clearly visible and well-informed notice board(s) on display at a central location(s) displaying the following information:

  • The White Flag award criteria and information
  • Code of Conduct for facility users
  • Facility rules
  • Facility’s Environment/Hygiene Statement (this statement must be submitted as part of the application for a White Flag award)
  • Facility map (showing: First Aid; Emergency exits; telephone; toilets; drinking water)
  • Environment/hygiene activities.

The facility must develop a number of organised environmental and hygiene activities aimed at children and adults to promote education and awareness.

Water quality and treatment

The facility must ensure compliance with the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management’s Policy Area 4 – Pool Water Quality and the recommendations set out “Swimming Pool Water”. It must have well kept pool records to monitor levels of disinfectant, pH, alkalinity, TDS (total dissolved solids) and clarity. Bacteriological tests must be randomly carried out at least once a month unless there is suspected water quality deterioration in which case the frequency of bacteriological tests should be increased. Swimming pool water must be subject to weekly Water Balance tests, with the appropriate remedial action taken if necessary.

How To Apply

White Flag Manager

All applications are made on line A 30 day period is available to complete the application. Timelines are as follows –

Open from March – May

Verification Audit from May – September

Jury Process October

Award Ceremony November