Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among children ages 1-14. About 70% of those children were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning. 75% of those children were out of sight for five minutes or less. In fact, a child can drown in the time it takes you to answer the phone. Not talk on the phone; hear the phone ring, get up, walk to the phone, pick up the handset, and say "hello." Many of these deaths took place under a type of pride that many parents have when it comes to their kids. Some parents will say things like, "My child can swim just fine," when in fact they can only temporarily swim a stroke or two in water that comes up to the child’s chest. That is not swimming. Many more parents believe that they have everything under control. They are sure that their children, as well as any neighbor children or other relatives, are perfectly safe when swimming in their pool. The fact is you can never be too safe, and you never have everything under control.
There are some measures you can take to make your pool a safer place for everyone. Do I expect you to go out and hire lifeguards for your home pool? No, I do not; that’s just silly. Making your pool a safer place to swim requires good planning before you build a pool and a little persistence once the pool is operating. Let’s go through a little checklist of items you should look at before building a home pool (or should have looked at if your pool is already built):
- The pool should be completely surrounded by a fence that is difficult if not near impossible to climb.
- If the pool deck, or a deck leading to the pool, is butted up against the house there should be an audible alarm and a lock on the doors that lead outside to the pool deck.
- It is a good idea to have a phone line installed outside on the pool deck. You can get covers or cases to place phones in so they won’t get ruined by the weather.
- Wood decks can be nice, but they also get very slippery. If you go with a wood deck (which is commonly used for above ground pools) make sure that you do something to the floor of the deck to make it rough so people won’t slip and fall. You can buy special paint or even special flooring products to do this with.
There are also alarms that you set up on the edges of the pool which will sound if anything breaks the surface of the water. These are expensive, but they could save a life.
Everything else you can do to make your pool a safe place requires you to have patience with other people, and to be persistent and consistent. Since it is your pool, it is up to you to make sure that your children or even visitors are following your rules:
- Make a list of rules and post this list on the pool deck. It doesn’t have to a super-mega list of hundreds of rules for every possible danger. Since you are a private pool, and will commonly host family and friends, you can allow them to use common sense and just post the big, general rules. You must also enforce these rules and explain to parents who bring their children what your rules are and why you have them. Don’t hesitate to tell even your sister that she can’t bring her children over if they aren’t going to follow and enforce rules. Rules are not there to keep people from having fun, they are there to keep people from getting hurt and hurting others.
- If you have an in-ground pool, make sure that there are no toys or furniture outside the pool area that can be used to climb the fence. This includes plastic houses and cars and slides from companies like Playskool, tricycles, chairs, loungers, hose reels, wheel barrels, tables, trash cans, etc. You might have to do some arranging, but it’s better to arrange your yard and put away toys than it is to deal with the death of a child because they used a toy car to climb the fence to your pool.
- Put your kids in swim lessons. Yes, you can teach your kids to swim, but most swim instructors who have tried to teach their children will tell you that it is better for the kid to have an instructor that is not related to them. The child will listen to the swim instructor better because they won’t be able to whine and complain until they get their cookie. (or something like that) The American Red Cross Learn-to-Swim Program starts at Level 1 and goes through Level 6. Have you children progress through all the levels before you even think "they can swim good enough now."
- No child can swim good enough to be safe if swimming alone. As a matter of fact, no person (child, adult, or Olympics swimmer) should swim alone. You should always swim with a buddy in a supervised area. You, as the pool’s owner, should always make sure that if there are people in the pool, either you or someone you trust is watching the pool. It only takes a couple of seconds for a child to sink to the bottom. There are actual reports of children drowning within arms reach of both of their parents. You must know what’s going on at your pool, enforce all the rules, and keep a good eye on everyone. Also, the more people you have watching over the pool, the less of a chance you have of something happening…statistically.
- Never trust your children’s lives in the hands of a floating toy! Noodles, inner tubes, rafts, water wings, and vests are not safe flotation devices. Your child could fall off or let go of the toy and drown. If your child cannot swim they should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. Yet, even the proper life jacket is no substitute for you.
- Put away the toys when the pool is not in use. Toys attract children.
Basically, keep order at your pool. Keep an eye on everyone and always be attentive if someone is in or near the pool. Besides watching over the pool, much like a lifeguard, there are a couple of other things you should do. In the case of an emergency you will need the equipment and training to respond:
- If you have the time, take the American Red Cross Lifeguard Training Course. Go out and buy a lifeguards rescue tube. Or you can take the Basic Water Rescue course. If nothing else, you should at least get certified in CPR, Rescue Breathing, and First Aid.
- Make sure you have reaching poles or shepherds crooks on the pool deck. If someone gets in trouble in the water, even a young teenager can grab a reaching pole and pull the drowning victim out (if they are conscious). Remember: Reach or Throw, Don’t Go. You can also have a ring buoy, but in a small pool, a good sized pole will probably be able to reach past the middle of the pool from either side.
- Have a properly stocked first aid kit available on the pool deck. make sure that it’s location is clearly marked so anyone could grab it in an emergency.
- Have a phone on the pool deck. You can get phones that will hang up the line so you will be able to call 9-1-1 immediately. You should also post emergency numbers near the phone.
- Have first aid and safety posters displayed on the pool deck.
- Have an Emergency Action Plan ready. An Emergency Action Plan (or EAP) is a list of instructions that show who does what in the case of an emergency. Make sure everybody understands the EAP. Post the EAP on the pool deck in a couple of different places.
Even if you do all of this and more, your pool will not be incident-proof. Accidents can still happen, people can still get hurt. You can never eliminate dangers at a pool, you can only minimize the dangers by assessing what they are and trying to take measures to lessen them. Just remember that no piece of equipment, and no sign is a substitute for you. Watch your pool, enforce the rules, get educated, and help to educate others. That’s what makes a pool safe.