Nearly 300-children under the age of five drown in pools and spas every year. The number one way to prevent drownings is through proactive parent supervision, but most drownings occur when a child was thought to be in the house but slipped outside without anyone knowing. This year alone, at least two children drowned days after their family moved into a new home.
According to drowning statistics, in 77% of accidental drownings, the child had been seen 5-minutes or less before being missed. That’s why pool safety advocates at Life Saver Pool Fence urge parents to install layers of protection in a home before they move in. These are designed to block kids from getting to the pool or at least slow them down so parents have more time to get to them before the child gets to a pool.
1. High locks on all doors and windows
Before you move in, install locks on doors and windows that are high and out of the reach of young children. Put them on every door and window that leads to the pool area. Some drownings happen because a parent didn’t know their toddler had figured out the door knob or lock and the simply walked out on their own. Don’t forget sliding glass doors that small children can slide open.
2. Door and window alarms
Home buyers who have never owned a pool may not realize children are drawn to water, even when it is cold outside. Families can self-install simple contact alarms for doors and windows that lead to the pool, or contract with a security company. In every case, it’s important to keep the alarms activated. If an older child disables the alarm, a younger sibling could easily slip outside without anyone knowing.
Also consider installing an alarm on any gates that lead to the pool. Adults can use a bypass switch that will keep kids out when there is no one around to supervise.
3. No doggy doors
If you have toddlers in the home, any pet doors that grant access a pool or spa should also be permanently sealed off. Toddlers are known to mimic their pets and may follow them right out the doggy door and into the pool area. That puts both the child and the pet at risk of falling in the water. Instead, move the doggy door to an area that is secure with no access to the pool or spa.
4. Pool safety fence
Perhaps one of the most reassuring steps is installing a pool fence. Fences should be at least 4′ tall and have a self-closing, self-latching gate. Mesh pool safety fences, like Life Saver Pool Fence, have proven to be an effective layer of protection with a transparent and aesthetically pleasing look that is easy to remove and reinstall by the homeowner. Make sure the fence surrounds the pool, so there are no doors or windows leading directly from the home into the pool area.
5. Pool alarms
There are several types of alarms that will provide another layer of protection against drowning. Surface pool alarms will trigger an alarm inside the home when the water’s surface is broken. However, a small child could quietly walk down the pool steps and slip under water without making a big splash or setting off the alarm, so they cannot be used alone.
Subsurface pool alarms detect disturbances beneath the surface. They cost more but are less prone to false triggers than floating alarms and more reliable than surface alarms.
6. Child immersion alarms
When you first move into a home, consider using a wearable immersion alarm, like the Safety Turtle, which triggers an alarm inside the house if the sensor gets wet. This is especially important in a new home when you are unfamiliar with the area. It resembles a watch and can protect against all water hazards including a neighbor’s pool, ponds, and rivers.
7. Assign water watchers
When children are in the pool, assign one person as a designated Water Watcher and change shifts every 15 minutes. Active supervision means sitting close to the pool with your full attention on the child/children – no phones or reading materials. Do a regular headcount and step in when there is too much horsing around. If you have to walk away for any reason, another adult must be designated as the Water Watcher.
Do not leave a toddler or young child in the pool area without adult supervision. Older children are not always as sensitive to the dangers of drowning, and my not recognize the warning signs.
8. Clear out pool area after swimming
Get in the habit of always removing floats from the pool when finished, especially toys that could attract a child to the water. Children who are in pursuit of a toy won’t think twice about breaking the rules to get it.
Also make sure to move any tables or chairs away from the pool fence so they cannot be used to climb over. Make a rule from day one that the pool area is for swimming only, so children don’t get used to being near the water when parents are not around.
9. Swimming lessons
As soon as a parent and pediatricians feel comfortable, all children should receive swimming lessons. Some organizations even offer training for infants to roll over and float, and to swim to the edge of the pool in case they fall in.
No matter how much instruction your child has, it’s important to give them a refresher if they have not been swimming in a while, like the winter months. That’s true even in warm weather states, like Florida, Arizona, and California where drowning is the number one cause of death for children under five.
Every parent, babysitter, and teenager should be trained in CPR. Check out local community centers for classes as soon as you move to your new home. This training is essential to get oxygen to the brain and can make the difference between life, permanent disability, and death.
You cannot drown-proof a child, but every layer of protection that you add significantly reduces the chance of a child drowning incident– the more, the better. Of those steps, pool safety fencing is arguably the most effective at preventing fatal drowning incidents because it physically prevents access to the pool, making your pool safer for your children and your neighbors.
For more information on making a pool safe, check out the Parents Guide to Pool Safety at http://www.poolfence.com/ .
Eric Lupton is president of Life Saver Pool Fence.