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Protecting Children Around Your Swimming Pool

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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.

Door Alarm

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 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 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 F1346-91.

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.

Pool Alarm

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."


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Information about pools and pool fencing on this site is the sole opinion of the author and does not represent any legal, medical, or professional advice.

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