While public and private pools around the country are opening for the summer, a government report released this morning reveals that the number of children age five and younger comprises the largest percentage of pool and spa-related deaths and that that number is increasing.
Besides endangering children, pools are a major threat to the homeowner's financial well-being. An experienced personal injury lawyer said most pool owners are "sitting ducks" for a catastrophic lawsuit.
"A swimming pool is an accident waiting to happen and the homeowner is absolutely responsible for whatever tragedy occurs in that pool, even if it is someone who sneaks in at night and drowns," the lawyer said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report revealed that the average number of children under five drowning in pools and spas increased from 267 for the years 2002-2004 to 283 for the years 2003-2005. The majority of those drownings involved one- and two-year-olds and took place in residential settings, according to the report.
Alan Korn, director of public policy at Safe Kids USA, concurred. "Pool drownings are the second leading cause of death for children four and younger behind vehicle crashes. The most dangerous things we do to our children is put them in a car unbuckled and pop them in a pool unsupervised," he said.
Adults need to actively supervise, Korn said. "That does not mean looking over the top of the newspaper every few minutes or supervising while working the barbecue."
"Child drownings don't happen like they do in the movies. They don't scream for help and they don't splash around. They go under and you need to react." He said many children drown while their parents are sitting by the pool but aren't watching closely.
Korn also gave some gruesome details about entrapment. He said it comes in many forms including bodily, when a child and sometimes an adult cannot peel themselves off the pool's drain or get a limb or their hair stuck. Sometimes, if an individual is sitting on a drain, it can result in evisceration, in which the bowels are sucked out of the rectum. Finally, there is mechanical entrapment which occurs when a bathing suit or earing gets stuck in the drain.
The average number of deaths in pools and spas for people of all ages from 2003-2005 was 270. Only about a dozen of those deaths each year took place in spas, the CPSC report indicated.
The average number of serious injuries from pools and spas decreased slightly from 2,800 in 2004 to 2006 to 2,700 for 2005 to 2007. The injury numbers are more recent because of a lag in reporting fatalities, according to the report.
Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death to children ages one through four, according to a CPSC press release.
The tragedy of hundreds of children dying each year from accidental drowning and four times as many who are near-drowning victims with devastating injuries, is made even more painful by the knowledge that these types of accidents are preventable, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said at a press conference at a public pool in Washington, D.C. this morning.
Parents should know that simple safety measures for their pool or spa could very well prevent their own child from being lost through such nightmare scenarios as accidental drowning or entrapment.
A new law effective December 19, 2008 requires all public pools and spas have safety drain covers, and in certain circumstances, an anti-entrapment system. Many children are sucked down, entrapped and seriously injured or drowned in drains whose covers break off or have been removed.
Between 1999 and 2007 there were 74 reported incidents involving entrapment, resulting in 9 deaths and 63 injuries, according to the report.
However, most child drownings are simply the result of no adult supervision, according to a CPSC press release.
Homeowners should be aware that having a pool subjects them to legal responsibility for deaths and injuries that occur in that pool.
Make no mistake, said one expert: the pool owner is responsible for what happens in his or her pool. The pool owner has an absolute responsibility to provide a safe environment for children and adults alike and to be pro-active in preventing accidents.
Experts recommend you not accept the responsibility of pool ownership unless you are aware of the risks and are willing to deal with them. At the most basic level, you and all able-bodied adults in your family should successfully complete a CPR course. Everyone in your household should learn to swim and be knowledgeable in pool safety.
Make sure your homeowner's insurance policy includes coverage that will protect you against liability lawsuits resulting from swimming pool injuries. You may want to add an additional liability policy specifically covering pool accidents. One million dollars is the absolute minimum you should have; more is desirable.
Don't rely on posting signs such as "swim at your own risk," "too shallow to dive", etc., to protect you against a lawsuit. Anyone who is injured in your pool, even if they are trespassing, may have the legal right to file a claim against you for any damages resulting from injuries received while in your pool.
These legal risks extend to small inflatable pools as well as in-ground units.
Layers of protection
The safety agency suggests pool owners adopt several layers of protection, including physical barriers, such as a fence completely surrounding the pool with self-closing, self-latching gates to prevent unsupervised access by young children. If the house forms a side of the barrier, use alarms on doors leading to the pool area and a power safety cover over the pool.
In addition, the agency provides these pool and spa safety tips:
Since every second counts, always look for a missing child in the pool first. Precious time is often wasted looking for missing children anywhere but in the pool.
Don't leave toys and floats in the pool that can attract young children and cause them to fall in the water when they reach for the items.
Inspect pools and spas for missing or broken drain covers.
Do not allow children in a pool or spa with missing or broken covers. Inserting an arm or leg into the opening can result in powerful suction and total body submersion and drowning.
For above-ground and inflatable pools with ladders, remove or secure the ladder when the pool is not in use.
It is important to always be prepared for an emergency by having rescue equipment and a phone near the pool. Parents should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The danger of drowning is not confined to large, in-ground pools. Small inflatable pools are also hazardous.
CPSC has reports of 17 drowning deaths involving inflatable pools in 2005, up from nine in 2004 and 10 in 2003.
Small inflatable pools, about 2 feet deep, can cost as little as $50, and larger pools, up to 4 feet deep and 18 feet wide, can cost under $200. These pools often fall outside of local building codes that require barriers, and may often be purchased by consumers without considering the barriers necessary to help protect young children from the dangers of pools.
CPSC said last year that its staff was working with the voluntary standards group ASTM International, consumer safety groups, retailers and inflatable pool manufacturers to develop safety standards for these products. There's no word on when those standards might be finalized.
Some local jurisdictions already require barriers for larger inflatable pools. For example, the state of New York requires fencing around any pool that is at least 2 feet deep.
"Parents need to understand any pool poses a drowning risk," former CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton said last year. "Consider the danger of water before investing in an inflatable pool."
Drowning Season Opens; Pools a Major Menace to Children...