Swimming is fun, healthy and one of the most popular sports activities in the U.S., but tragedy can strike at any moment without proper safety precautions.
Drowning is a leading cause of death for children ages 1-14, killing more 1- to 4-year-olds than anything else except birth defects. And most of those drownings occur in home swimming pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three children die each day from drowning.
As a homeowner, you have to protect the children on your watch. “Drowning is preventable with proper lessons and following simple safety tips,” says Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF).
At-home pool safety tips
Drowning isn’t the only potential pool hazard – there are also dangers from the sun, water-borne germs, pool chemicals and mechanical equipment to guard against. But by practicing the following safety measures compiled from the NSPF, CDC and American Red Cross, homeowners with pools can prevent water mishaps and protect themselves from liability
- Secure pool with a four-sided, four-foot fence and a self-closing, self-latching gate.
- When not in use, remove ladders used for access and pool toys that might attract a child.
- Install a pool alarm that sounds if anyone enters the pool.
- Keep children in and around the pool under active supervision at all times.
- Keep children away from pool filters and drains and know how to shut down mechanical devices in an emergency.
- Don’t allow anyone to swim alone.
- Give swimming lessons to everyone in the home. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88 percent.
- Have appropriate safety equipment and know water safety, first aid and CPR.
- Don’t let kids swim if they have diarrhea, don’t swallow pool water and always shower before getting into the pool. Most swimming-related illness outbreaks reported to the CDC are caused by diarrheal germs like cryptosporidiosis (crypto) and E.coli. Crypto germs are not easily killed by chlorine.
- Wear sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing when not in the water.
- Stay out of the pool during electrical storms.
- Don’t mix alcohol and drugs with swimming.
- Keep electronic devices away from the pool.
- Drink plenty of water. Too much heat exposure can lead to dizziness, which can be hazardous in a pool setting.
- Never dive into an above-ground pool and check depth before diving into an in-ground pool.
- Avoid underwater breath-holding activities.
- Educate yourself about the safe use of pool chemicals and keep them locked away from children and animals.
Why ‘water watchers’ are necessary
Each year, Water Safety USA — a consortium of 14 national governmental and nongovernmental organizations — announces a water safety message. This year’s message is “Designate a water watcher – supervision could save a life.”
Adults around or even in the water with children is not protection enough, especially with lots of kids in the pool. Drowning is a quick and silent killer, and even the most well-intentioned adult can become distracted by a phone, book or chat.
A water watcher keeps an eye on pool activity and is alert (not under the influence of drugs or alcohol), has the ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress, has a floating or reaching object to use in a rescue, preferably knows CPR and has a working phone to dial 911.
Other insurance and safety precautions
The NSPF recommends using a certified technician to install and maintain pool equipment since they are also trained in pool safety awareness.
“They create another layer of protection for the homeowner,” says Rose Lyda, director of marketing at NSPF.
A certified technician is a set of trained eyes that can spot any safety issues ranging from improperly stored chemicals to electrical or mechanical system problems – things that could easily be overlooked by someone who is just removing leaves and other debris from the pool and surrounding area.
Taking these kinds of precautions can help avoid pool accidents, for which a homeowner would be liable.
All homeowners with backyard pools should have the proper insurance to protect against damage and liability.
When purchasing or installing a pool, the Insurance Information Institute (III) recommends first contacting your city or town to comply with safety standards and building codes. Then immediately contact your insurance agent, as having a pool increases your liability risk.
While most homeowners policies include a minimum of $100,000 liability protection, the III says homeowners with pools may want to increase that. Additionally, with an in-ground pool, homeowners should consider insurance to replace it if it’s destroyed by a storm or other disaster.
Michele DiGirolamo is a former longtime reporter for United Press International and a freelance writer for MoneyGeek.com.