Deathtrap: An unfenced pool is an invitation to drowning

It won't be long now.

If you haven't already opened your pool for the summer season, you almost certainly will this Memorial Day weekend. But along with all the fun that can bring, it also means a lot of responsibility.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) children younger than age 5 represent more than 75% all pool and spa submersion deaths and 78% of pool and spa submersion injuries in the United States involving children younger than 15 years of age. Black and Hispanic children between the ages of 5 and 14 are at a higher risk of drowning.

Dangerous waters

Photo“Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of 1 and 4 and minority children drown in pools at an alarming rate,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. “The lives of countless children can be saved this summer. Take simple safety steps today -- teach all children to swim, put a fence around all pools, and always watch children in and around the water.”

This year, CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign is focusing its attention on populations most at risk of drowning:

Children between the ages of 1 and 3 represented 67 percent of reported fatalities and 64 percent of injuries.

Black children between the ages of 5 and 19 are six times more likely to drown in pools than white and Hispanic children that age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data from USA Swimming indicate that 70 percent of African-American children and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, making them more likely to drown.

The 2013 report on pool or spa submersions shows that each year there are an average 390 pool or spa-related drownings for children younger than 15 with 76% (296) of the victims being younger than 5. Additionally, there are 5,100 pool or spa-related emergency department-treated submersion injuries for children younger than 15 with 78% (4,000) of the injured being younger than 5.

Layers of protection

The key to preventing drowning tragedies is to have layers of protection. This includes placing barriers around your pool to prevent access, using pool alarms, closely supervising your child and being prepared in case of an emergency. Here are some tips to prevent drowning:

  • Fences and walls should be at least 4 feet high and installed completely around the pool. Fence gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out of a small child's reach.
  • If your house forms one side of the barrier to the pool, then doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with alarms that produce a sound when a door is unexpectedly opened.
  • A power safety cover -- a motor-powered barrier that can be placed over the water area -- should be used when the pool is not in use.
  • Keep rescue equipment by the pool and be sure a phone is poolside with emergency numbers posted. Knowing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be a lifesaver.
  • For above-ground pools, steps and ladders to the pool should be secured and locked, or removed when the pool is not in use.
  • If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
  • Pool alarms can be used as an added precaution. Underwater pool alarms generally perform better and can be used in conjunction with pool covers. Be sure to include remote alarm receivers so the alarm can be heard inside the house or in other places away from the pool area.

Legal Responsibility

Make no mistake: the pool owner is responsible for what happens in his or her pool. The pool owner has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for children and adults alike and to be pro-active in preventing accidents.

Even if neighborhood children trespass and use your pool without permission, you face ruinous legal action if one of them drowns. A multi-million dollar damage judgment is not something anyone wants to face.

Staying vigilant

Rep. Wasserman Schultz

“As we head into summer and families across the country are getting ready to take their kids to the pool, we must remind everyone how important it is to keep a careful watch on our children as they swim and ensure that their pools and spas have proper safety equipment,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (D-Fla.), at an event hosted by Tenenbaum. “Working together, we can improve the safety of all pools and spas by increasing the use of layers of protection and promoting uninterrupted supervision to prevent child drowning and entrapment.”

“Learning how to swim saves lives,” said Suzy DeFrancis, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the American Red Cross. “The American Red Cross encourages all families to enroll in Learn-to-Swim programs by contacting your local pool.”

Families can learn about Red Cross programs and find water safety tips by going to

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