Safety Guidelines for Saunas and Steam Baths

By Joselyn Biira Mwine

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, gyms and spas were all about manicures, pedicures, massages – lots of massages – from Swedish massage, sports massage, therapeutic massage to Eastern-inspired Ayurveda massage, hot stone massage, the list goes on. Every hotel and sports centre that claimed to offer luxury facilities had a gym and spa attached, offering all of the above, and people flocked to these spas in their droves to be pampered and swathed in fluffy towels. They were the go-to places to step out of the fast lane, to switch off, wind down and de-stress.

Then the industry moved on, a pandemic hit and, along with it, the menu of therapies and treatments to support wellness and well-being. And so saunas and steam baths have quickly became a booming business. However, every good thing comes with some challenges. In the recent past, the media has run stories of saunas in and around Kampala catching fire and explosions happening as a result of little to no maintenance done at these facilities.

This has awakened the need for a standard to be developed by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) which is charged with the mandate of protecting the health and safety of the public. The UNBS through the Technical Committee UNBS/TC415, Cosmetology and wellness has developed the Draft Uganda Standard DUS 2388: Safety in Saunas, Steam baths and whirlpools – Requirements and Guidance for use.

This draft Uganda Standard provides requirements and guidance for use as well as the development of a safety culture in saunas, steam baths and whirlpool establishments. It also gives guidance to enable organizations to provide safe and healthy workplaces by preventing use related death, injury and ill health.

The Standard requires that facilities to put in place and observe aspects such as;

  1. Safety signage

Proprietors of such a business should make a point to display some common safety rules and guidelines. Here are some typical points you should consider including – they will cover all the basics.

  • Children ages five and below are not permitted in the sauna.
  • Children between the ages of six and 16 must be accompanied by an adult in the sauna at all times.
  • Allow yourself at least five minutes after exercising to cool down before entering the sauna.
  • Pregnant women and persons suffering from heart disease, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, circulatory or respiratory problems, seizures or epilepsy should not enter the sauna without prior medical consultation.
  • Do not use the sauna while under the influence of any type of alcohol, drugs, anticoagulants, antihistamines, vasoconstrictor, vasodilators, stimulants, hypnotics, narcotics or tranquilizers.
  • Clean swim attire must be worn and participants are required to bring a towel to sit on when using the sauna.
  • Remove all metal jewellery prior to entering the sauna.
  • The surface of the rocks, heater and surrounding area can be extremely hot. Exercise caution.
  • Prolonged use of sauna not recommended due to fatiguing effects. Limit yourself to a maximum of 15 minutes.
  • Do not smoke, exercise, eat or drink beverages in the sauna room.
  • Leave the sauna immediately if you experience any nausea, dizziness, hot flashes, cold chills, headaches or other discomfort.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and after leaving the sauna.
  • Use of chlorinated pool or spa water and oil on heating rocks is prohibited in a wet sauna.
  • This sauna is a dry sauna. Please do not pour water on the electric coals. (If applicable)
  • Do not use the sauna to dry clothes, swimsuits or towels or place materials near the heater or guard fence.
  • Newspapers, magazines, or other reading materials are prohibited.
  • After using the sauna, participants must shower prior to entering the pool or whirlpool.
  • If repair or assistance is needed, contact [INSERT YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION].
  1. Power safety

While infrared saunas can go on almost any surface, make sure your sauna is plugged into the appropriate outlet. Do not use extension cords, as these can surge, fray, or spark. A licensed electrician can help you upgrade your outlet and inspect your electrical system. Overloaded circuits can cause fires.

  1. Heat bodies Only

Never use your sauna for anything other than heating bodies. Sauna are not designed for drying clothes, towels, or crafts.

  1. Keep a safe space around heaters

Make sure nothing touches the heaters either, such as clothing, towels, and any reading material you might be using. If you have a heater in the floor of your sauna, make sure to pick up anything that falls on it or under the slats. Regularly inspect inside the sauna, especially near the heating unit, to determine if there is any charring, burning, or discoloration. If any is noticed, contact the manufacturer to determine the source of the problem and how best to fix or replace the cause of the problem.

  1. Construction materials

Ensure that the materials used to install the sauna are certified by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS). Use a professional engineer to install the facility.

  1. Flooring

Place protective wooden slats around sauna heater: Slats should be made of the same material as the rest of the sauna and be placed at least one inch from the heater.

  1. Routine checks by staff

Encourage staff to regularly check saunas for clothing or newspapers placed too close to the heater. Establish a staff schedule of checking the locker room, including the sauna, every 30 to 45 minutes. The best way to ensure this policy is followed is to create a checklist that needs to be signed by staff every 30 to 45 minutes confirming the locker room was checked. UNBS offers training in document control under the US ISO 9001: Quality Management standard.

  1. Maintenance

Perform all manufacturer-scheduled maintenance. It is important that saunas are functioning properly and safely in order to prevent fires. Routinely servicing your sauna will ensure that all the components are safe. It is especially important to make sure that the temperature gauge is reading properly.

Both clients and proprietors have a critical role to play in ensuring that saunas and steam baths provide a relaxing experience and multiple health benefits. It is important to use a sauna safely, and to follow specific rules of etiquette. Owners and operators of these facilities must take it upon themselves to ensure that their clients get the health and wellness benefits that they seek.

The Draft Uganda Standard is available on the website for stakeholders and the public to provide comments on its suitability for implementation by 21st September 2021.

The writer is a Public Relations Officer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards.