Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of American families confront swimming pool tragedies, drownings and near-drownings of young children. At InterNACHI, we want to prevent these tragedies. These are guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young children. These guidelines are not intended as the sole method to minimize pool drowning of young children, but include helpful safety tips for safer pools.
Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency-room treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida — states in which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year.
- In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5.
- Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.
- Boys between 1 and 3 were the most likely victims of fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.
- Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.
- Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard.
- This means that 69% 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.
- Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.
- Fewer than 2% of the pool accidents were the result of children trespassing on property where they didn’t live or belong.
- Seventy-seven percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged.
Above-ground pools should have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.
If an above-ground pool has a barrier on the top of the pool, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool and the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches. Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier, and by using self-closing and self-latching gates.
There are two kinds of gates which might be found on a residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool barrier.
Other gates should be equipped with self-latching devices. The self-latching devices should be installed as described for pedestrian gates.