Residential in-ground pools now number about 5.1 million, and home above-ground pools are estimated at 3.5 million, according to the National Swimming Pool Institute. The Institute also states there are about 360,000 in-ground pools in hotels, motels, apartments, parks, and public facilities, schools, clubs, and camps. During the pandemic, many families added a backyard pool for at-home recreation and relaxation.
Commission injury statistics indicate that more than 40,000 persons annually will seek hospital emergency room care for injuries involving below-ground pools; about 10,000 will need treatment for injuries related to above-ground pools. Seventy-five percent of the injured will involve persons 19 and under, and almost twice as many boys as girls will be hurt.
The National Safety Council reports that 600 children and adults drown annually in swimming pools, 330 in-home pools. Some of the people who survive a near-drowning accident sustain life-changing injuries, including permanent brain injuries. For every child that dies from drowning, another five require extended emergency care for submersion injuries. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).
Drowning, especially with young children, is generally a passive activity. The child in distress slips under the water, and water fills the lungs. Most drowning victims don’t thrash or call for help. They simply sink under the water and never come back to the surface.
Swimming alone or without adult supervision leads to many drownings. Each year, headlines note the deaths of infants and children who tumble into pools and drown because a gate was left open or they otherwise were able to gain access to a pool when no one was around to save them.
Many severe injuries result from falling on slippery walkways and decks and falling from diving boards and ladders. Diving and jumping into shallow water also are major causes of serious injuries.
Although many pool accidents are caused by running and roughhousing, many injuries are also attributed to the pool, accessories, and general environment.
The severity of injuries associated with swimming pool water slides– permanent disabilities for some adults and children who went head first down the slide and struck the bottom of the pool– led to a Commission decision in June to commence a proceeding to develop a mandatory safety standard or slides.
Here are seven tips to make sure your day at the backyard or community pool is a safe one:
- Never leave a child unattended in or near water: Always watch children when they’re in or near water, and never leave them unattended. Designate an official Water Watcher, an adult tasked with supervising children in the water. That should be their only task – they shouldn’t be reading, texting, or playing games on their phone. Have a telephone close by at all times if you need to call for help, and if a child is missing, check the pool first.Even if a lifeguard is present, parents and caregivers should still take the responsibility of being a designated Water Watcher. When any lifeguard chair is empty, the remaining lifeguards may not be able to see the entire pool, and when lifeguards are seated in low chairs, their view can be blocked by patrons in the pool.
- Teach children how to swim: Swimming is not only fun; it’s a lifesaving skill. Enroll children in swimming lessons; there are many free or reduced-cost options available from your local YMCA, USA Swimming chapter or Parks and Recreation Department. If a child can’t swim, make sure they’re wearing a US Coast Guard approved safety life vest. “Swimmies” or other inflatable rings for small children will not keep them from drowning.
- Teach children to stay away from drains: Do not play or swim near drains or suction outlets, especially in spas and shallow pools, and never enter a pool or spa that has a loose, broken, or missing drain cover. Children’s hair, limbs, jewelry, or bathing suits can get stuck in a drain or suction opening. When using a spa, be sure to locate the emergency vacuum shutoff before getting in the water.
- Ensure all pools and spas have approved and regulation-compliant drain covers: Virginia Graeme Baker, after whom the Pool and Spa Safety Actis named, died from drowning due to a suction entrapment from a faulty drain cover. All public pools and spas must have drain grates or covers that meet safety standards to avoid incidents like the one that took Graeme’s life. Powerful suction from a pool or spa drain can even trap an adult.
- Install fences, locking gates, covers and alarms on and around pools and spas: Proper fences, barriers, alarms, and covers can be lifesaving devices. A fence of at least four feet in height should surround the pool or spa on all sides and should not be climbable for children. The water should only be accessible through a self-closing, self-latching gate. Teach children never to try to climb over the gate or fence. Install a door alarm from the house to the pool area, and keep pool and spa covers in working order.
- Know first aid and how to perform CPR on children and adults: Often, bystanders are the first to aid a drowning victim, so learning CPR can help save a life. And once you’re CPR certified, make sure to keep your certification current. CPR classes are available through many hospitals, community centers or by contacting the American Red Cross.
- Always swim with a buddy: Never swim alone, especially children. Always have an adult supervise children in a pool or spa. The supervision must be active – no reading, napping, or doing anything that could direct your attention away from the persons in the pool.
The CPSC is also considering various approaches that could reduce injuries associated with other pool hazards such as sharp edges and protruding bolts, slippery ladders, decks and diving boards, lack of depth indicators, and shock hazards from electrical wiring, and problems of exploding filter tanks.
- Use non-slip materials on the pool deck, diving board, and ladders.
- The pool ladder steps should be at least three inches wide, and the ladder should have handrails on both sides small enough for a child to grasp. There should be a ladder at both ends of the pool.
- A licensed electrician should install electrical equipment under local safety codes. Ground-fault circuit interrupters are now recommended or required for pool area installations. Faulty electrical installations could cause severe or fatal electric shock.
- Check with a reputable pool contractor to ensure the depth is sufficient for a diving board or slide. Always put a slide in a deep area of the pool– never in shallow water.
- There should be a fence at least six feet high around all sides of the pool with a locked gate to keep children out when there is no supervision, and the fence should be constructed so it isn’t easy to climb. Lawn furniture, trees, and shrubs should not be close enough to provide an easy boost over the fence. Avoid using a side of the house as part of the fence; toddlers have wandered out through an open patio door or window and drowned.
- Mark water depths conspicuously. Use a safety float line where the bottom slope deepens.
- Above-ground pools: Install sturdy guard rails around the pool deck. Look for rolled rims on the metal shell to ensure the rims do not present a sharp cutting edge if someone falls. The access ladder to the deck should be sturdy and without protruding bolts or other sharp edges. The access ladder should swing up to prevent children from unauthorized entry or should be easily removable for secure storage away from the pool area.
- Check the pool and equipment periodically for cleanliness and good maintenance. Cover all sharp edges and protruding bolts; repair rickety or broken ladders and railings. Replace non-slip materials when they wear out.
Source: Consumer Production Safety Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Protection