Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of American families confront swimming pool tragedies - drownings and near-drownings of young children. These tragedies are preventable. This U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) handbook offers guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young children.
This handbook is designed for use by owners, purchasers, and builders of residential pools, spas, and hot tubs.
The swimming pool barrier guidelines are not a CPSC standard and are not mandatory requirements. Therefore, the Commission does not endorse these guidelines as the sole method to minimize pool drownings of young children. The Commission believes, however, that the safety features recommended in this handbook will help make pools safer. Publication of this handbook is expected to promote pool safety awareness among owners, purchasers and builders of swimming pools.
Some localities have incorporated the guidelines in this handbook into their building codes. Check with your local authorities to see whether these guidelines are included in your area's building code or in other regulations.
Why the Swimming Pool Guidelines Were Developed
Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. CPSC has estimated that each year about 350 children under 5 years old drown in residential swimming pools. The Commission estimates hospital emergency room treatment is required for approximately another 2,500 children under 5 years of age who were submerged in residential pools.
In the late 198Os, CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida, states in which home swimming pools are very popular and in use during much of the year. The findings from that study led Commission staff to develop the guidelines in this handbook.
In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5 years.
75 percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.
Boys between 1 and 3 years old were the most likely victims of fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.
Most of the victims were being supervised by one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.
Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23 percent of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard. This means that fully 69 percent of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.
65 percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim's immediate family, and 33 percent of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.
Fewer than 2 percent of the pool accidents were a result of children trespassing on property where they didn't live or belong.
77 percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool drowned or submerged.
The speed with which swimming pool drownings and submersions can occur is a special concern: by the time a child's absence is noted, the child may have drowned. Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive and lack a realistic sense of danger. These behaviors, coupled with a child's ability to move quickly and unpredictably, make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households with young children.
Swimming pool drownings of young children have another particularly insidious feature: these are silent deaths. It is unlikely that splashing or screaming will occur to alert a parent or caregiver that a child is in trouble.
CPSC staff has reviewed a great deal of data on drownings and child behavior, as well as information on pool and pool barrier construction. The staff concluded that the best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools was for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that would prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there are no substitutes for diligent supervision.