A pool accident is scary to think about. You might avoid the thought, but you should be aware of the risks so you can take the right precautions and enjoy your pool with confidence.
The statistics are alarming. Every day, ten people drown in the United States. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for children until they reach age 14; it is the third leading cause of accidental death for all ages worldwide. Children under 5 are the most vulnerable. For these younger children, household pools are the most common location—as opposed to a lake or a river—for an accident. Children who survive accidents can still suffer serious injuries and trauma. Almost 70% of these accidents occur when the child is not expected to be near the water. In other words, a toddler wanders off for a moment and falls over the edge of the pool. It can happen fast, even when a vigilant parent or guardian looks away.
The best way to keep a child from getting into the pool is a fence. The locks should be high and out of reach of little ones. The key should be kept in a safe place for adults to access.
Vacations can be a special case. If you rent a home that has a pool, obviously, you can’t build a fence. Often times pools open to patios with different doors for children to access. Parents can block doors with furniture. Make a plan at the beginning of your vacation to keep your children safe.
If your house opens directly into the pool area, restrict access. For example, if the backdoor to the house leads right to the pool, lock it, and teach kids to use a different door. The pool area should not be a multi-use area. If children are not swimming and supervised, they should be playing somewhere else. This helps keep them from associating the pool area as their general play space. The pool is for swimming and games like Marco Polo. Backyard baseball, tag, and hide-and-seek should not include the pool area.
Don’t leave your pool toys out to draw younger kids. If the brightly colored pool floats are all sitting in sight right next to the pool, a little one will be tempted to play with them. Even worse if the toy is floating in the water. Also, don’t put your yard furniture right next to the pool fence. Kids are natural gymnasts. They can use a chair or table on either side of the fence to scale it. Kids might climb the fence or squeeze through it. Move the furniture away and put those toys in a box or the pool house when they’re not in use.
If all this fails, and a child does go into the pool area, a pool alarm can be a great last resort. They work in different ways. Some are triggered by the waves that a child makes when they get into the water. Others sense the sub-surface disturbance when someone plunges in or tries to swim. You can also put alarms on the doors and gates to the pool area to alert you when someone opens them.
There are also alarms you can take with you. Some of the wave-sensor alarms are small enough to slip into a purse and take to your friend’s pool, so you can barbecue with peace-of-mind while the kids play. You can also give your kids wristband alarms that trigger if they fall into water.
Finally, when it is time to swim, safety is an active job. I’ve mentioned supervision throughout this article: Any time children are in the pool area, they should be supervised. The people who look out for them should be competent to protect them. An adult who cannot swim cannot rescue a swimmer in distress. Some of the saddest stories I’ve heard are families who lose more than one loved one because a weak or non-swimmer went into the water to help.
If you ever do need to make a rescue, a pole or pool hook is the safest way to reach for a swimmer in distress. Your instinct may want to push you to dive in and swim for your loved ones, but going into the water for them may put you both at greater risk. A swimmer in distress can panic and cling to you or push you down—that is another reason you shouldn't rely on children to look out for children. Keep a pole or rescue hook in your pool area to protect your family.
If there is not a competent adult swimmer with them children should not be swimming. This goes for all activities—don’t agree to let unsupervised kids, “Just stay in the shallow end,” or, “Only dip our feet off the side.”
When they’re using the pool under supervision, children should learn the rules and expectations. They don’t need to be afraid, but they should have a healthy respect. Rules like No Running, or No Diving should be firmly enforced.
And a quick thing: don’t swim if the water is not clear enough to see the bottom. This is a sign the chemicals are off balance, but it also can be a drowning hazard if you can’t see a child who sinks to the bottom.
If you do all this to respect the water, your kids and family will learn to respect it too. You can enjoy your pool in safety without ignoring its risks.