Pool safety is, of course, a huge concern throughout the industry.
But what to do during the actual building process? Once the excavator breaks ground, that quiet backyard is quickly transformed into an all-out construction zone.
“It’s not going to be a ‘backyard having a pool put in,’” says Mike Giovanone, owner of Concord Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builderin Latham, N.Y. “A ‘backyard having a pool put in’ is an 18-foot aboveground. An inground pool project is, in fact, an area of construction.”
And to average homeowners, it’s an area rife with hazards. But builders can help keep customers safe. All it takes is the proper communication, barriers and daily practices.
Paint the picture
Verbally notify clients ahead of time about what will take place during construction and the dangers involved.
This includes explaining that heavy machinery and a work crew will be tearing into their backyard. In addition, the area soon will contain a large excavation with rebar jutting out; and multiple trenches, which must remain open until the plumbing is inspected, will appear.
Tell them that under no circumstances should children be in the area, regardless of whether crews are present.
Next, put the conversation in writing. Incorporate a warning into your contract, as well as on any preparatory handbooks or checklists you give the customer.
To protect yourself against future liability, make sure the clients understand and sign the agreement.Giovanone’s team even brings in visual aids.
“We have a photo album of a typical sequential four weeks of a swimming pool going into a yard,” he says. “We never try to mask the fact that this is going to be a construction site.”
Your clients have been warned, but others haven’t.
In case you must remove a gate or fence to gain access, remember that the new opening will have to be safeguarded after the crew leaves for the day.
Yellow safety tape and orange cones placed across an opening are good indicators. But some builders feel safer installing temporary fencing. Consult local codes for specific requirements.
A temporary construction fence surrounding the pool (or large hole at this point), will help keep out homeowners and children. Just remember to place it as far from the hole as possible.
“You don’t want the fence to interfere with the plumbing, electrical trenching, forming of the deck, or the shotcrete or gunite crews,” says John Mortensen, owner of Aquatic Concepts, a consulting firm in Phoenix.
Most of these barriers contain a flap that allows for passage in and out. At the end of each day, Giovanone says, that flap should be secured shut with plastic wire ties.
“You can’t undo those; you have to cut them off,” he says. “So every time we come back on the job, we have to cut them off. There’s no functional doorway that a customer, neighbor or child could get into.”
Even so, make it clear that when it comes to the kids, there’s no substitute for parental supervision, Mortensen says.
“You have to watch your children if you have a pool,” he adds, “and the same thing goes for an open hole.”
Touch base with the homeowners throughout construction. And let them know what to expect at each stage.“The very first thing our excavators do when they get there is make personal contact,” Giovanone says.
“They make sure the homeowners know that we will be working in the yard today. We ask them to please lock all the rear screen doors if they have small children.”
Next, clients should be cautioned about piles of dirt from the excavation, especially if they are not contained behind safety fencing. Though an attractive diversion for children, these piles may contain rocks and other sharp objects, not to mention the potential for a painful tumble from the summit.
Inform the homeowners when your crew departs for the day. Make sure they know about open trenches and other works in progress to avoid.
Trash, debris and construction waste aren’t just eyesores — they’re unsafe. Obvious damage can be done by loose nails, screws or pieces of rebar.
What’s more, trash can obscure other unavoidable hazards, such as the steel cage or open trenches. Before the crew vacates the site each day, any materials that can be removed should be.
This means securing all tools; locking and retaining the keys to all large equipment; and making sure no live electrical lines are exposed.
Even when running a vacuum overnight for a vinyl-liner installation, Giovanone’s crew outfits the machine with a child-proof, shock-resistant plug enclosure to protect against electrical shock as well as rain and movement.
Not enough builders follow the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to some industry experts. They cite the failure to place plastic safety caps on each exposed end of rebar as just one example.
In general, avoid surprises. Show customers where the unavoidable hazards are, and mark those areas with tape or flags. This includes open trenches and nearly anything with sharp objects poking out.
It is especially important when building a vertical element, such as a tall waterfall with exposed rebar.
And don’t stack rocks in piles — it’s unstable and unsafe. Instead, tail-gate spread them, placing each on the ground one at a time and leaving 3 feet between them. No piles will tumble, and the rocks should remain in pristine condition.
Don’t add to the statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 97 laborers were killed in 2006 by residential job-site injuries through falls, contact with objects and equipment, or exposure to harmful substances or environments.
And these were professionals familiar with the hazards of construction sites. Children and homeowners don’t have the same knowledge, so they require greater protection.
“Having an open concrete pit in the backyard with rebar and debris around it is inherently dangerous,” Kircher says. “Builders never think of it that way, in my experience, because they do it day in and day out.”
By taking these simple steps, though, you can prevent homeowners from becoming statistics.