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Pool Safety Tips
Pool Safety Tips

Every year the unthinkable happens: over 3,000 children under the age of five are hurt or killed in home swimming pool or spa incidents in the U.S. (Iannelli 1). In warmer areas, like California and Florida, it is the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of five (Iannelli 2). The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) collected information on these submersion incidents and found that in the over 3,000 incidents, 75% of the children were between one and three years old. Experts propose that this is because toddlers are at an age of increased cognitive and physical development, and so they are constantly doing things they have never done before (United States 1). For instance, they may never have been able to grasp a door handle, but suddenly learn how because their motor skills have improved rapidly. This is important to recognize because many adults have the mistaken impression that young children are incapable of surpassing basic barriers; adults need to be aware that this kind of relaxed attitude around young children, even toddlers, is dangerous.

Many parents are certain that their children are safe under their supervision. However, the CPSC observed that most children involved in the reported submersion incidents were under the supervision of their parents. Even more disconcerting, still, is the fact that the majority of children were not even expected to be near the pool, and 46% were last seen in the house (United States 1). This indicates that children can, and do, quickly and unexpectedly leave the home and found their way to the pool. And, they are able to do this in such a manner that supervising adults do not notice their dangerous endeavors. In fact, the majority of children had only been missing for five minutes (United States 2). This is another disturbing point because it shows that children can end up in a dangerous situation in the time it takes to answer the phone or use the restroom. Additionally, according to the CPSC, "child drowning is a silent death. There's no splashing to alert anyone that the child is in trouble" (United States 2).

So, how exactly do parents protect their children? The single most important action a parent can take is ensure that children are supervised in and around the pool (Water Safety 4). The Red Cross even goes so far as to recommend "Reach Supervision" for particularly young children; in other words, children should be within reach of a supervising adult around the water (Water Safety 5). Experts also encourage that a single person be designated as the supervising adult so that children know whom to turn to in an emergency (ABC's 1); it also ensures that adults do not fall into the dangerous thinking that someone else is sure to notice a dangerous incident so that no one is actually watching for a problem. Also, the supervising adult should know emergency contact info, including the address so the proper information can be forwarded to rescue personnel (ABC's 1). The Red Cross also advises that any adult or child care taker who will be watching children at a residence with a home be trained in CPR procedures, and that CPR instructions be posted in the pool area (Water Safety 4).

Experts caution that there is absolutely "no substitute for supervision". This includes swimming lessons, flotation devices, and even safety pool fencing (Iannelli 3). While these things are not to be substituted for supervision, they are important preventative or supplemental measures to ensure child safety around the water. The Red Cross does recommend that children take swimming lessons. Similarly, it advises that children should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices; flotation devices that are not Coast Guard approved are not secure enough to provide the kind of safety required for a preventative safety measure (Water Safety 1).

Of course, the main problem with flotation devices and even swimming lessons is that these measures do require some sort of adult supervision. And according to the study by the CPSC, it is obvious that most submersion incidents occur when children unexpectedly find a way to leave a supervising adult's care. It is for this reason that child safety pool fencing is the single most important preventative action that a parent can take. The Red Cross recommends that swimming pool fences should entirely enclose the pool area without using the house as part of the barrier (Water Safety 4). This is very important considering how easily children can leave the house, according to the numbers provided by CPSC. Swimming pool safety fencing should be at least 4 feet tall on all sides (United States 2), and they should be self-latching and self-closing. Vertical bars on the child safety fencing should be no more than four inches wide (Water Safety 4). While the CPSC suggests that swimming pool fencing should be designed with vertical bars, it does also recommend that should parents install a chain link child safety fence, the openings in the fence should be no more than 1-3/4 inches (United States 3). These precautions ensure that children can neither climb the child safety fence, nor slip through the vertical openings (United States 2).

A swimming pool fence requires more than just its installation, though. While it is not recommended to include the house as part of the child safety fence, if it is necessary to include the house as part of the barrier, experts advise installing exit alarms and safety latches on all doors and windows. Doors and windows should be self-closing and latching, and the locks should be out of children's reach. Additionally, it is imperative that parents keep all toys and furniture away from the swimming pool fencing, and out of the pool area when not in use. These items can allow a child to climb over the child safety fencing (ABC's 2), while toys may add an unnecessary temptation for children to enter the pool area (Water Safety 4). Furthermore, while a power safety cover should not be considered a preventative measure by itself, an ASTM approved safety cover can be combined with the safety of a swimming pool safety fence for an additional level of protection (United States 3).

Finally, while no parent wants to think about the terror of a submersion incident, it is essential to prepare for one. The Red Cross recommends installing a phone directly in the pool area so rescue personnel can be called should an emergency occur. Likewise, lifesaving equipment like ropes and poles should be kept in the pool area (Water Safety 4). Most importantly, should a child go missing, check the pool area first (United States 4).

So, in summary, the single most important factor in preventing a submersion incident is supervision. For the best supervision:

  • A single adult should be assigned the role of supervising children in the pool area;
  • The supervising adult should know the pool's address so the proper emergency information can be delivered to rescue personnel quickly;
  • The supervising adult should be clearly marked so children know whom to turn to in an emergency;
  • Any adult in charge of child care at a residence with a pool should have CPR training;
  • A phone should be installed in the pool area so rescue personnel can be alerted immediately upon an emergency;
  • Particularly young children should be supervised using "Reach Supervision";
  • Children should wear U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation devices.
Because even the most observant adult may not notice a child slip away from the house, the second precaution adults should take is installing child safety pool fencing. To ensure the most effective swimming pool safety fencing:
  • Child safety fencing should be at least four feet in height;
  • Gates should be self-closing and self-latching;
  • Vertical bars in swimming pool fences should be spaced no more than four inches apart;
  • Child pool fencing that is chain link should include spaces no bigger than 1-3/4 inches;
  • All furniture should be removed from the area around swimming pool fences;
  • All toys should be removed from the pool safety fencing area;
  • Avoid using the house as part of the child safety fencing barrier;
  • Should the house be part of the swimming pool safety fence barrier, install self-closing, self-latching doors and windows, as well as exit alarms on doors and windows;
  • Use an ASTM approved powered safety cover in combination with child pool fencing.
All of these precautions can ensure an enjoyable and safe pool experience for years to come.

Sources:

ABC's of Pool Safety. 27 November 2008. http://www.abcpoolsafety.org/ABCs_of_Pool_Safety.377.0.html.

Iannelli, Vincent, M.D. "Pool Safety Tips for Parents" About.com. (1 April 2007) 27 November 2008. http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/safetyfirstaid/a/pool_safety.htm.

United States. Consumer Product Safety Commission. United States for the Unexpected: Preventing Child Drownings. Washington. 27 November 2008.

"Water Safety Tips." The American Red Cross. 27 November 2008. http://www.redcross.org/services/hss/tips/healthtips/safetywater.html.