Tales from the Safety Zone
We're making headway in protecting kids from drowning and near-drowning. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign reports that child drownings declined 30 percent in the last decade. The rate of bathtub-related drownings has declined even more, in part because parents have gotten the prevention message. Children ages 1 to 4 are at greatest risk for drowning, with a rate 2.5 times that of other children.
Fencing around backyard pools has been a key to the decline in child drownings. Guidelines on pool safety developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are not mandatory under federal law, but many communities have incorporated them into their building codes.
The reason pool barriers are so important is that even when parents are conscientious about supervising their little ones, drowning can happen in an instant. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive. They're also unpredictable, and their abilities change almost daily. By the time a child's absence is noted, it may already be too late. A very young child is unlikely to splash or scream, so the parent or caregiver may not be aware that a child's in trouble.
When you aren't around, pool fences deter other neighborhood children who might wander into your yard.
In a CPSC study of swimming pool mishaps, most of the submersion victims were being supervised by one or both parents. More than three quarters of these children had been missing for five minutes or less from their homes or yards when they were found in the pool.
Barriers provide extra time. They can be the margin of safety that lets you locate your child when he has strayed from you. They're not only needed around pools but also around spas, hot tubs, and whirlpools.
Fences and Gates
A fence or wall at least four feet high should be installed completely around the pool. It's safest to enclose the pool on all sides with a fence rather than using your house as part of the barrier. Otherwise, your youngster could wander out the back door and make her way to the pool on her own. (See the following sections, “Door Alarms,” and “ Power Safety Covers.”)
Whatever barrier you use, it should not provide places for a child to squeeze through or to get a foothold and climb over. If it's a chain link fence, for example, the diamond-shaped openings should be no larger than 1¾ inches. If the fence is made of vertical slats, the space between them should not exceed four inches. Spacing larger than that could allow a toddler to squeeze through.
The fence will do no good if the gate allows a child access. The gate should be self-closing and self-latching with the latch out of a child's reach. Never prop it open.
If you notice your child is missing, check the pool first. Seconds count. Go to the edge and scan the entire bottom, then check the rest of the pool area before searching other parts of the house or yard.
If your house is one part of the pool barrier, it's smart to put alarms on the doors that lead from the house to the pool. These operate with batteries or electricity, and can be temporarily deactivated when an adult needs to open the door. The key pad, which you use to deactivate them, should be placed high enough on the door to be well out of children's reach.
Instead of alarming the doors, you can cover your in-ground pool with a power safety cover, a motorized barrier that easily opens and closes over the water in the pool. With the cover in place, small children will be protected from the water.
Power safety covers, if they meet standards set by the American Society of Testing and Materials, can withstand the weight of two adults and a child. This allows for a rescue in case an individual falls on the cover. The cover only works, of course, if it is closed completely after each use of the pool.
Don't allow standing rain water to accumulate on the top of the power cover. A toddler could possibly drown in that, too.
To protect your children from falling into an above-ground pool, secure and lock the steps and ladders or remove them when the pool is not in use. Consider fencing these as well.