Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under five in the United States. Most deaths occur in family pools with parents at home. Safety groups and product safety watchdogs are calling for a revised approach to poolside safety. They suggest providing layers of safety that will act as a series of barriers for young children and a set of warning whistles for their caregivers.
Layers of Safety
The first line of protection for any pool, whether it is attached and open to the home or separate from it, is a locking door. If there are children in the home or frequent visitors, the Consumer Products Safety Commission recommends a door alarm that will sound whenever the door is opened.
The pool should be completely fenced, with a latching gate that opens out from the pool. All fences and gates should be at least four feet high. The latch should be child resistant and located on the pool side of the gate. Check also that the latch is located at least three inches below the top of the gate so that small hands cannot reach over the top to unlatch it.
If the pool leads directly into the home, there should be a power safety cover over the pool with controls that are kept safe from young hands. Homeowners with visiting grandchildren or young guests could also install removable, code approved, pool barriers within the fenced area to prevent pool access.
Check with your local code officer or zoning representative to verify the requirements in your town, but consider the guidelines offered by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) National Building Code as standards to utilize.
The most important advice to remember is that a fence must prevent a child from going over, under, or through it to get to the pool. All pool fences should be at least forty-eight inches tall and no more than two inches off the ground at the lowest slope. Vertical slats should be less than four inches apart so that children cannot squeeze through. There should be no exterior handholds or footholds on which the child can climb.
Gates and Latches
It is important that all pool gates be self-closing and latching so they do not accidentally remain open. Child-resistant latches should be installed on the pool side of the gate, at least three inches below the top. Keep slats on the pool gate spaced close together so small hands cannot reach between them and unlatch the gate. Better yet, place a horizontal member below the latch, locate the latch at least three inches below the top, and space vertical fence slats no more than one inch apart within eighteen inches of the latch.
No pool cover alone is a substitute for appropriate barriers, latching gates, and self-closing doors with alarms. If the pool is immediately adjacent to the home, a powered pool cover rated to withstand weight up to 485 pounds is specified by BOCA. Additionally, the cover must have a mechanism to drain any standing water that accumulates on the cover and must not have any openings that would allow a 4.5- inch ball or sphere to pass through.
BOCA further specifies that the pool cover should have a keyed mechanism located in a direct sight line with the pool cover. The control should stop the pool cover if the key is released and reverse it on cue. That way the pool cover can be stopped and retract if it comes into contact with a person or object. The key should never be stored with or left in the control box.
Do Regular Safety Checks
All fence members should be checked regularly for sturdiness. All latches, screws, and brackets should be tested to be sure they are sound and working properly. Alarms should sound promptly and reset automatically. Alarms should also be equipped with coded key pads that momentarily shut off the alarm for adults to enter and leave the house or pool area. Check fence footings to make sure supports are sound. Measure periodically to be sure that the space underneath the fence has not increased with settling or erosion.