The sparkling surface of a pool is a lure.
It attracts children and adults alike and, most of the time, that’s exactly what the pool owner wants. After all, having family and friends enjoy themselves is the whole point.
But pools also have a dangerous side.
Reports of young children who wandered away from caregivers only to become a tragic statistic have been too frequent.
But the news doesn’t have to be sad. Utilizing the many safety products available on the market to provide layers of protection can keep both wanderers and swimmers safe all season long.
Risks of the shared pool
Community pools often are untended and unguarded. That’s why Craig Sears does safety presentations to homeowners associations, apartment buildings and condo complexes his company manages to talk about how to provide secure environments for all.
The president of Sears Pool Management Consultants Inc. has been doing these presentations for a few years, and he also presented a session at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in 2012 to talk about how professionals can incorporate a safety message into their businesses.
“When you inform your clients you do two things, which are really important: One is that you let them know that you care for them, and two, you demonstrate yourself as a professional, that you know what you’re talking about,” Sears explains. “You want to inform them of any type of hazards that you see at the pool and, of course, any codes or laws that would apply to their particular facility.”
The easiest way to keep children safe around pools is two-fold: make sure they are competent swimmers and know safe ways to use the pool, and supervision.
Even with safe swimming practices in place, community pools must utilize the barriers available to not only protect residents, but to minimize the property’s risk if there is an unfortunate incident.
“At a minimum, they should at least have a good fence, a good gate and a good latching system, and then, a good safety cover for the winter,” Sears recommends. During the season, safety products can be damaged from inappropriate behavior, such as swinging on a gate, so the property owner needs to do inspections to ensure everything is working properly.
Since starting his business 17 years ago, Sears has noticed that the percentage of client pools that he provides lifeguards for has dropped. While it used to be that more than half of the pools needed his staffing services, now a little more than a third request staffing. The property pools now tend to be shallow — less than 5 feet deep without diving boards or slides — and that’s part of the reason why fewer pools are tended.
“My understanding is that’s driven by liability costs, and a belief — whether it’s accurate or not — that those pools are somehow safer than pools with deep water and diving boards and water slides,” Sears says. “I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Most drownings actually happen in shallow water. But I think the belief is that those pools are supposedly safer.”
The pool out back
When homeowners build a pool, they generally think first of the fun their family will have — not the safety aspects. In Houston, Earl Jones is reaching out to these residential pool owners to bring them more awareness about safety.
His presentations cover the basics of water watching, balancing water chemistry for the best visibility, child barrier and safety products and water safety inside the house. Jones, owner of Texas Pool Techs and Texas Pool School in West Houston, shows demonstrations of rescues.
“We don’t talk about the just the swimming pool, but [also] what’s going on inside the house,” he adds.
Especially for people who bought a home with an existing pool, knowing their pool equipment and how to shut it off in an emergency is essential. Typically, homes with single-drain systems don’t have an SVRS, so Jones takes an equipment setup to the demonstrations on a pallet and shows how to turn it off so everyone understands in case of an emergency.
Because each setup can be a little different, though, Jones recommends a blanket safety backup that will work for all houses: cutting the power. “[We tell them to] make sure they have their breakers labeled so if they don’t know anything else, they know what breakers turn off the pool equipment,” he explains.
Entrapment isn’t the leading cause of home drownings, though. It tends to be family members who are unable to swim, falling into the pool and being found too late to be resuscitated. In those cases, it’s the other barriers to water entry and products that give warnings that are so helpful.
The building code in many locations have special requirements for homes with swimming pools. Generally, these requirements include a perimeter fence around the pool area and self-latching gates to make it difficult for people to gain unauthorized access to the pool. While these products are necessary to secure the area, they don’t provide protection for the people living in the house. One door left ajar could equal a toddler in the pool.
That’s the situation that makes removable fencing, mesh pool covers, and door and pool alarms so vital.
While no specific product recommendations are given at the demonstrations, Jones uses them to get business leads for Independent Pool and Spa Service Association members in the Houston area. Jones, the West Houston IPSSA chapter president, can get area chapter members out to look at a family’s pool to see what safety products might suit them.
“If I can’t see the pool, I can’t make a recommendation,” he says. “Every pool has a different situation. Sometimes they have an open backyard and need something totally around [the pool]. Sometimes they have a half-enclosed yard. Or maybe they have animals, and those animals also need to be kept out.”
A myriad of safety product options are available to homeowners, so Jones talks about the choices at the demonstrations. Fences and covers are the most-asked about barriers, but they’re not the only protection products for residential pools.
Adding barriersWhile a solid safety cover is perfect for the off season, it’s can be hard to put on and off while the pool is in near-daily use.
But leaving a quick entry into the water isn’t ideal either. This is where barriers, such as safety nets and removable fencing, come into play.
Safety nets can be removed in less than 10 minutes by one person, while removable fencing can be added just around the pool perimeter and removed completely after a child is older with no indication that it was ever there.
A Safe Pool, based in Phoenix, Ariz., primarily installs removable fencing and safety nets, but also sells pool safety covers and other entry barriers to prevent child drownings.
“There are a handful of states that, in my opinion, take drowning seriously. Most of them do not,” says owner Jason Howard. “In most states, safety codes are designed to keep a child from entering the yard and getting into the pool. … They’re not designed for the children living in the home, which doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Because the safety needs of each pool differ, creating that plan could begin at the building stage for new construction. For existing pools, service techs can point out the inherent safety concerns when they know one of their customers has a child.
Easily opened patio doors, a dog door that a child could crawl through or even a window could all be means of escape for this vulnerable population.
“Drowning is one of the most common ways that children die, but it’s also the most preventable,” Howard explains.
Because of children’s penchant for escaping, Jones recommends pool owners get into the habit of always checking the pool first.
“If is a child is missing, the first place we want them to look is the pool,” Jones explains. “Because hopefully if it’s not too long, they’ll be able to revive that child through CPR.”
For pool owners without children, techs can make safety recommendations that protect visitors when needed.
“Alarms are an easy fix for people who only have children visit,” says Corinne Zemla, vice president at Irvine, Calif.-based RJE Technologies Inc., which makes pool entry alarms and Safety Turtle, a wearable alarm that alerts as soon as it’s wet. The pool alarms meet ASTM code to alert if a child 18 pounds or heavier enters the pool.
The more protection the better, according to experts and manufacturers. “I’m a big fan of layering up,” Zemla says.
The Anatomy of a Safe Pool
A safe pool begins with the balance of the water chemistry. Getting the chemicals just right not only benefits swimmers, but it also keeps the water clear, providing the visibility for safety.
Both Earl Jones, owner of Texas Pool Techs and Texas Pool School in West Houston, and Craig Sears, president of Sears Pool Management Consultants Inc., emphasize the urgency for chemical balance during safety presentations to homeowners and community pools.
“Obviously, if the water is cloudy, then that’s not safe for swimming,” Sears says. His company’s clients include homeowners associations and condo and apartment complexes. “We let them know that they should close their pool if they can’t see the bottom,” he adds.
Once it’s easy to see the bottom, other safety products to protect pool users come into play.
Creating a barrier between the pool and children (and pets) is one line of defense. This can include an enclosure around the pool perimeter and/or a safety net or cover. But service technicians need to make homeowners aware of necessary safety cover features that minimize drowning risks while the pool is covered.
In addition to pool barriers, service techs can recommend safety equipment and alarms that children can wear when near the pool.
A new sensor that watches the child is the iSwimband, which sends an alert to a mobile device if the child is underwater past a preset time. Jones will demonstrate how they work at his upcoming community presentations.