When school lets out and summer break begins, warm weather and sunny days attract children and adults of all ages to the swimming pool.
While pools are a great chance to enjoy some summer fun in the water, they come with obvious and not-so-obvious safety risks that every adult and child should be aware of. Due to COVID-19, the United States saw a spike in pool installations nationwide, and the trend of working and spending more time at home continues. With more pools comes more risk and owners who may be unaware of the dangers.
As a homeowner, you may already have a pool or have plans to add one in the future (if you plan on building one, our handy guide on the pros and cons of pools will help). If you have children, they might also visit friends with swimming pools. So whether you’re a homeowner with an existing or planned pool and/or a parent, pool safety should be a top priority.
This article delves into the lurking dangers of swimming pools and provides expert safety suggestions so you know what issues to look for — and spend less time worrying and more time relaxing around the pool.
The Statistics Surrounding Swimming Pools and Drowning
Hanging out with kids by the pool is one of the joys of summer. The last thing you want to think about is putting children in danger. Still, pools come with some sobering statistics worth knowing (note that not all drowning-related statistics cited below relate to drownings in swimming pools):
- A 20% increase in pool installations occurred in single-family homes between October 2019 and October 2020 — a 533% increase over recent years.1
- Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children 19 and under.2
- Drowning was the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages one to four from 2011 to 2020. Most of these drownings occurred in swimming pools.3
- There were 4,000 fatal drownings in the United States over the same period — an average of 11 drownings per day.3
- From 2011 to 2020, emergency departments recorded an average of 8,061 emergency visits related to non-fatal drownings (not all drownings result in fatalities).3
- Nearly 40% of drownings treated in emergency departments required hospitalization or transfer for further care from 2011 to 2020.3
- Drowning can lead to brain damage and other serious outcomes, including long-term disability.3
- Sixty-nine percent of children who drown do not expect to be in or near water.4
- Boys are more likely to drown than girls. They make up 68% of drowning victims (children aged up to 14), with girls making up 32%.5
- Drowning deaths are highest from May through August, with most drownings occurring at in-ground pools.5
- Most pool injuries occur at residential properties.5
8 Ways to Create a Safe Environment at a Pool
Below we’ll discuss eight safety features for pools that reduce the risk of accidents. To help us with our recommendations, we consulted with two experts in pool and home safety:
- Chris DeJong is a five-time U.S. National Championships swimmer and the founder and president of Big Blue Swim School.
- Hubert Miles represents Patriot Home Inspections and is the founder of Homeinspectioninsider.com. He is a Certified Master Inspector and Certified Pool Inspector through NACHI (National Association of Certified Home Inspectors).
1. A Secure Fence
The Red Cross reports that a four-sided fence separating a pool from the yard and house reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% when compared to three-sided property fencing. A locked fence is one of the best protections around pools and can make your yard safer for children, and DeJong and Miles agree. DeJong also recommends decreasing the threat further. “Don’t leave toys or items of interest near the water,” he said.
Be sure to follow local ordinances regarding pool fencing.
2. Floating Pool Activity Alarm and Cameras
Receive a notification when someone is in the water anywhere you are. “Pool alarms can detect motion or activity at a gate or in the water itself, which is worth considering if you have young children on the property,” DeJong said.
This includes smart systems. “Smart pool alarms use sensors to detect movement in and around the pool and can sound an alarm, alerting you if someone falls in,” Miles said.
One example of such a tool is this pool alarm system. It alerts homeowners on their phones if there is movement such as by children or pets in a pool.
Cameras are also helpful. “Drowning detection systems use cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor swimmers in the pool. If a swimmer is in distress, the system will alert you or your designated pool watcher,” Miles said.
3. Make Sure a Water Watcher is Assigned if Children Will Be in the Pool
A water watcher is a responsible adult who maintains eyes on the pool at all times.
“It’s important to note that drowning is not always an obvious incident, which makes close supervision essential for any water activity. Identify an adult in your group who keeps a close eye on swimmers and rotate that person every 30 minutes to avoid supervision fatigue,” DeJong said.
Miles has the same advice. “Always supervise children around the pool, never leaving them unattended. Designate a responsible adult as the designated water watcher who can provide undivided attention to children in the pool,” he said.
In addition, ensure phone time is limited so that attention is kept on children as they swim. Distractions can lead to accidents and even drowning since not all drowning is immediately noticeable. In many cases, there is little to no splashing.
You can also improve safety with windows that offer clear, unobstructed views of your pool. If you need to improve your home’s windows, you’ll find a list of recommended window companies here.
4. Reduce Slipping Around the Pool
Slipping while walking or running around a pool is common, but nonslip mats will minimize the danger. You can go further by installing nonskid surfacing such as textured tile or rough concrete around the pool.
5. Proper Covers and Nets for Pool Surface
A quality cover or net will hold the weight of children and pets to prevent them from falling into the water, but it also offers more benefits. A cover reduces evaporation and heat loss, lowering water and energy bills. It also keeps leaves from entering the pool and drain, reducing cleaning work.
6. Safety Buoys and Life Jackets
Buoys are flotation devices that can be used in a pool to help prevent drownings. A ring buoy can be tossed to a distressed swimmer to help keep them afloat. Rope buoys, often used to define swimming lanes in a pool, can be left in pools for easy grabbing. “Ensure proper fitting life jackets are available for any water activities,” DeJong said.
Pool toys like inflatable rafts may seem like buoys, but they should be avoided. They can block your view of your kids and become a slipping hazard that leads to injury.
7. Upgraded Drain Covers That Won’t Crack or Come Loose
If pool drain suction is too powerful, it can trap a swimmer underwater and cause serious injury or even death. Ensure drain covers are in good condition, comply with safety regulations, and are checked regularly. Keep a particularly close eye on older pool and spa drains to ensure they have an anti-entrapment drain cover or safety vacuum release system.
8. Set House Rules and Encourage Best Practices
Regardless of the cost of inground swimming pools, owners should comply with local ordinances for pool signage. Even if it isn’t required, post a clear set of guidelines.
“Establish clear pool rules for everyone using the pool, including children and guests. Emphasize the importance of not running near the pool, not diving into shallow areas, and following any additional rules specific to your pool. Regularly reinforce these rules to ensure compliance,” Miles said.
Teaching Swimming and Pool Safety
Below, we’ll review four methods pool owners can use to teach children and adults in the household about staying safe in and around the pool.
1. Swimming Lessons
Proper swimming lessons for all members of the household are essential. “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] notes that formal swim lessons reduce drowning by 88%, making year-round formal swim lessons the best way to help a child be ready around the water,” DeJong said.
“Enroll children in age-appropriate swimming lessons taught by certified instructors. They will learn basic water safety skills, such as safely floating, treading water, and entering and exiting the pool,” Miles said.
2. Ensure Adults and Youth are CPR Certified
The act of learning CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is crucial, but it can also be an excuse for fun. A pool party is an ideal way to teach the group.
“Acquire CPR certification and encourage other family members or frequent visitors to do the same. Knowing CPR can be life-saving in the event of an emergency,” Miles said.
“Parents and caregivers are encouraged to take CPR and first aid training with a reputable group such as the American Red Cross, enabling them to respond quickly and confidently in case of injury,” DeJong said.
3. Practice Swim Emergency Scenarios
Teach kids what to do if someone falls into the pool and shows signs of distress, such as yelling and splashing, and to spot if someone sinks in the water. In many cases, drowning shows no signs of struggle at all. Teach them what to watch for and how to react when the time comes.
Kids should also follow best practices during their time at the pool. For instance, have them do a practice speed walk around the pool to break their habit of running, and they should avoid pool drains. “Educate them about the dangers of pool drains and the importance of staying away,” Miles said.
In addition, place a safety kit nearby. “Maintain a well-stocked poolside safety equipment kit that includes items such as a reaching pole, life jackets, a first aid kit, and a phone for emergencies. Be sure everyone knows the location of these items and how to use them,” Miles said.
4. Make Sure Posted Pool Rules are Learned by Heart
Make sure kids and guests read the pool rules by prominently posting your guidelines and reviewing them before anyone gets in the pool.
Some common examples of instructions are:
- No diving
- No running
- No swimming alone
- No horseplay
- No electrical devices
A Pool Should Be a Place of Relaxation
Having a solid set of rules and physical protections in place, like a four-sided fence and non-slip mats, goes a long way towards preventing injuries. Combined with the proper CPR training and practicing emergency scenarios, you and your children can enjoy the cool water in the hot summer months with less risk of injury.
Pools should be fun and a positive family experience. With the proper procedures and training, they can be.
- “CAPE Data Finds Pandemic-Driven, 533% Surge in New Backyard Swimming Pools,” https://capeanalytics.com/blog/cape-new-swimming-pool-installations/, accessed June 9, 2023
- https://www.safekids.org/poolsafety, accessed June 9, 2023
- “Drowning Facts,” https://www.cdc.gov/drowning/facts/index.html#:~:text=Every%20year%20in%20the%20United,22%20nonfatal%20drownings%20per%20day, accessed June 9, 2023
- “Home Pool and Hot Tub Safety,” https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/home-pool-safety.html, accessed June 9, 2023
- “Safety Tips,” https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/, accessed June 9, 2023