Drowning is often a “silent death” because a victim is usually unable to splash violently or call for help, as one might expect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between ages 1 and 14 years, and an extensive study performed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that “75 percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.”
In addition, the CPSC’s study revealed the following statistics:
- In most cases the children were being watched by one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.
- Nearly half of the child victims were previously seen inside the home before the pool accident occurred. Twenty-three percent of the victims were last seen on the porch, patio, or in the yard.
- Sixty-nine percent of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.
Preventing children from drowning or becoming submerged in a backyard swimming pool requires more than just a single safety device. Providing “layers of protection” is the best strategy for keeping children safe in and around the pool.
The first layer of protection is a barrier that surrounds the pool area; generally, this is a pool fence or wall. Fences or other barriers around the pool area should be at least four feet high, and the spaces between slats or holes in the barrier must be so small that it prevents a child from gaining a handhold or foothold which would allow them access to the other side of the barrier. Any gates in the fence surrounding your backyard swimming pool should have the ability to close and latch by themselves so that there is no danger of the gates standing open for any length of time. In addition, gate latches should be placed out of the reach of children.
Any door that leads from the house to the pool area should be equipped with an alarm that sounds if the door is opened. Door alarms need to alert you within 7 seconds after a door is opened and for a duration of at least 30 seconds, and the sound of the door alarm needs to be distinct and distinguishable from another alarm that may be in the house. In addition, door alarms should be equipped with a switch or keypad to allow adults to enter or leave through the door without the alarm sounding. This switch or keypad must be mounted high on the interior wall out of a child’s reach.
Pool Safety Cover
The next layer of protection is a pool safety cover. Solar pool covers and winter pool covers are not safety covers. In fact, solar covers and winter covers are potentially deadly because a person who steps out onto the cover while it is on the pool can become caught up in the cover as the pool cover sinks into the water. Escape is extremely difficult without immediate assistance. When installed, a safety pool cover must be able to hold a minimum of 485 pounds per 5 square feet, according to the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) standard F1346-91. Pool safety covers are anchored to a deck with straps. The straps usually attach to stainless steel springs and are anchored to recessed brackets in a deck surface. A mesh pool cover keeps water from rain and snow from sitting on the cover, but leaves, sticks, and other debris can gather in the pool while the cover is in use. A solid cover prevents debris from accumulating in the pool, but it does not allow rain and snow to drain through; as a result, the pool cover can sag and present a drowning danger to small children who may wander onto the cover if not carefully supervised. Choosing a solid pool cover with drain panels or obtaining a cover pump to remove the standing water is strongly advised.
Another layer of protection is a pool alarm. Pool alarms come in different varieties. Some are designed to detect movement on the top of the pool’s surface, some are specifically made to detect underwater disturbances, some act like motion detectors using infrared beams, and some are worn on the wrist and sound an alarm when the device is submerged. Recommended features to look for in a pool alarm can be found in this previous post.
No matter how many safety precautions are made to protect children from submersion and drowning accidents in the backyard swimming pool, close and constant supervision by a responsible adult is the most important “layer of protection” for keeping children safe. Just knowing that a child can swim and providing them with flotation devices does not substitute for supervision. Implementing most, if not all, of the protective measures outlined in this post is the best defense in preventing children from experiencing a “silent death” by drowning in a swimming pool.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document 359. “How to plan for the unexpected: Prevent Child Drownings.”
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document 362. “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools.”