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 1-14
years old, 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:
Most of the victims were being supervised by 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. 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.
Protecting children from drowning or becoming submerged in a
backyard swimming pool requires more than just a single safety
device or barrier. Providing "layers of protection" is the best
strategy for keeping children safe in and around the pool area.
Pool Fence or Barrier
The first layer of protection is the barrier that surrounds the pool
area; generally, this is a pool fence or wall. Fences or other
barriers on the perimeter of the pool area should be at least four
feet high, and the spaces between slats or holes in the barrier
should be small enough to prevent a child from gaining a handhold or
foothold which would allow them access to the other side of the
barrier. Opportunities for a child to get over, under, or through a
barrier should not exist.
Any gates in the fence or wall that surround 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. An open gate or an
easily reachable gate latch may be an invitation to a young child to
explore your backyard swimming pool.
Installing a door alarm may be necessary if one or more of the
outside walls of your house acts as part of the barrier around the
pool. Any door and/or screen that leads from the house to the pool
area should be equipped with an
alarm that sounds if the door is opened. Door alarms should be
designed to sound within 7 seconds after a door is opened and for a
duration of at least 30 seconds, and the sound of the door alarm
should be loud and distinct to
avoid confusing it with 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 should be mounted high on the interior wall out of a child's
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 of
any size who steps out onto the cover while it is installed on the
pool can quickly become trapped
as the pool cover sinks into the water. Escape is extremely
difficult without immediate assistance, and drowning can be the
tragic result. 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
Pool safety covers can be constructed from a mesh or solid material.
Each type of pool cover is anchored to a deck with straps that pull
the cover taut over the pool. The straps usually attach to stainless
steel springs and are anchored to recessed brackets in a deck
surface. A mesh pool cover
prevents rain and snow from puddling on the top of the cover, but
debris may accumulate in the pool while the cover is in use. A solid
cover can keep more debris out of 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
accumulated water is recommended.
Yet another layer of protection is a pool alarm. Pool alarms come in
different varieties: some are designed to detect disturbances in the
water at surface level, some are designed 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. The topic of pool alarms is described in more detail in
Part 2 of this article.
No matter how many safety precautions are taken 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 ensuring the safety of children. Teaching children
how to swim and providing them with flotation devices does not
substitute for supervision, nor do these measures protect children
from the dangers associated with swimming pools. Implementing most,
if not all, of the
protective measures described in this article is the best defense in
preventing children from experiencing a "silent death" by drowning
in the backyard 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."