It’s no secret that the pool business is built on fun — if people didn’t love playing in the water, there would be no need for pool builders, service technicians and the thousands of others this industry employs.
By the same token, many homeowners, site operators and even some pool professionals tend to grow awkwardly quiet when the issue of pool safety comes up.
In fact, it could be argued that today’s greatest pool safety hazards are ignorance and apathy — both on the part of homeowners as well as some pool industry members.
Here, builders and techs share their experiences discovering misused or poorly maintained layers of protection — and explain how they leave the pool safer than they found it.
Owner, California Pool Covers Services Inc.
Ideally, we’d like to see every customer install both an automatic safety cover and a fence — especially if the pool’s at a secondary home that won’t be occupied year-round. But if we can’t install a safety cover — for instance, if the deck is multi-level — we at least like to see every customer have fencing.
The No. 1 obstacle we encounter with fencing is that consumers often want to include the back door — the sliding patio door — as part of the entry to the pool. When they ask for that, we explain that they really need to isolate the pool; to have a complete enclosed barrier around the entire pool area.
At first, they often push back and say, “Oh, don’t worry; it’ll be fine.” We have to explain to them that if they attach their pool fence to their house, then their layer of protection is no longer actually that fence; it’s that sliding glass door, which isn’t necessarily self-closing, self-latching or self-locking.
Showing pictures to the customer helps a lot. They often object because they have this idea that pool fencing is going to be an eyesore, and they don’t want to have to see it every time they look out on the backyard. But once we show them that you can see right through many kinds of fencing, they realize that it actually looks better to have the pool area completely enclosed than to try to chop up the fence and tie it into the house.
But the best visual aid is a little kid standing by the gate, trying to get into the pool. A picture’s really worth a thousand words. On one recent job, we’d just finished putting up the fence when the dad and the son came out to take a look. The son was at the age where he was crawling, and he went right for the fence, to see if he could go around it or through it. Of course, the dad swooped in to pick the kid up — and there he stood, holding his kid back from a fence that we’d just finished. That image right there says it all.
Owner, Brandenburg Pool Remodeling & Repair Inc.
Here in Phoenix, a lot of backyards have wooden fences and gates — and the sun beats down on them nearly every day of the year. Over time the wood deteriorates, until it finally gets warped to the point that the gate doesn’t properly close at all.
Because this decay tends to sneak up on people, they often don’t do anything about it until it’s too late. By the time their gate gets to the point that it isn’t closing properly, they’ve usually gotten into the habit of tying it shut with wire or rope — never a good solution.
We ourselves don’t perform gate repairs, but when we notice a gate that isn’t closing properly, we make sure to share that information with the customer, and also note it in our invoice — this documents that we saw the problem and alerted the homeowner, which helps protect us against liability. You can’t force someone to pay for a safer backyard, but you do have a legal obligation to bring that hazard to the customer’s attention, and to document that you’ve done so.
Chas Bogardus, Service Manager
Budd’s Pools & Spas
Many safety covers dry out and crack as they get older. The lifespan of a safety cover has a lot to do with the backyard where it’s installed, and how it’s being used. If you put a solid safety cover in a shaded backyard, that cover is going to last far longer than one that’s being hit by direct sunlight every day. I have some customers who close their pools and then hardly open them — and those covers, being on all summer, will age more quickly as those that are put away for the season.
A lot of times you can hear an old cover stretching when you reach down and gently push on it — and when you can hear that, it may mean that the cover’s dry-rotted, and with any significant amount of force, someone could possibly fall right through it if they happened to try to walk or crawl on it.
The cover might be replaceable under warranty — many cover warranties last 10 years; some as long as 20, or even longer — but not all manufacturers are willing to honor a warranty if, say, the product was sold as a winter cover but the customer left it exposed during the summer.
The first action I’d recommend is just to bring the customer out to the pool, and show the him or her the cracks in the cover or stitching where the thread has started to come undone. They’re often surprised to learn about this — it’s just a matter of making them aware that the cover isn’t as safe as it should be.
If the customer isn’t home, we document the problem on the invoice, and explain that they can give us a call to discuss the options available to them. A lot of times, though, people don’t read the invoices — so what I tell my guys is, instead of just writing it down, you should call and leave a voicemail message for the customer, telling them what we’ve explained on that invoice. What’s most important is to make the customer aware of the circumstances, and document that you did so.
I don’t recommend putting on a disposable cover held down by sandbags or water bags — sometimes it’s better not to have a cover on the pool at all than to put one of those on. If the customer has kids, that cover can actually create a greater drowning hazard for them if it slips out from under some of the bags.