Play It Safe Around Pools and Spas

Relaxing in a spa can take the edge off a hectic day, while a brisk swim in the backyard pool might provide a refreshing, low-impact way to get in swimsuit shape this summer. Unfortunately, along with their health and leisure benefits, spas and swimming pools can prove extremely attractive and dangerous to young children.

Nearly 365 children under age 15 drown in pools and spas each year, with about 74% of these deaths and injuries involving children younger than age 5.1 In fact, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ranging in age from 1 to 4, and it’s the second leading cause of accidental death for children ages 5 to 9.2

Each year, an average of 6,400 children under age 15 sustain nonfatal pool- and spa-related injuries that require emergency treatment.3

As tragic and pervasive as these accidents are, most of them have one thing in common – they’re preventable. This summer be sure to share these life-saving safety tips with family, friends, neighbors, babysitters, and anyone else who may have access to your pool area.

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Safety Guidelines

  • Never leave a child unattended around a pool, spa, bathtub, water bucket, or any body of water.
  • Have a phone available at all times when supervising or visiting a pool or spa. But don’t let it distract you from watching young swimmers.
  • If a child is missing, look in the pool or spa first, including neighbors’ pools or spas.
  • Install a 4-foot fence around the perimeter of the pool and spa, including portable pools. Use self-closing and self-latching gates. If your house serves as the fourth side of a fence around a pool, install and use a door or pool alarm.
  • Maintain pool and spa covers. Ensure that any pool or spa you use has safety-compliant drain covers. Commercial facilities are required by law to have such covers, but you should apply the same standards to your own pool. 
  • Have lifesaving equipment such as life rings, floats, and a reaching pole available and easily accessible.
  • Remove glass bottles, toys, and other potential hazards from the pool area and don’t allow running or roughhousing on or near wet, slippery surfaces. Make sure that devices with electrical cords are kept well away from the water.
  • Be aware of other electrical hazards around pools, hot tubs, and spas, such as faulty underwater lighting; aging electrical wiring that hasn’t been inspected regularly; and the use of sump pumps, power washers, and vacuums that aren’t grounded. Lighting, circuits, and nearby receptacles should be protected by Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters (GFCIs), which offer the best safety device to prevent electrocution.
  • Limit alcohol use. Drinking alcohol not only can cause accidents for the person drinking but could lead to poor judgment and a lack of attention when supervising children.

Handling Pool Chemicals

Preventable injuries from pool chemicals led to an estimated 4,535 emergency room visits between 2008 and 2017. The most common cause of injury was inhaling fumes, vapors and gases from commonly-used pool chemicals such as chlorine.4

Here are some guidelines for handling and using pool chemicals safely.

  • Secure pool chemicals in their original containers and in an appropriate location. Don’t leave chemicals out where children (or pets) can access them.
  • Open and handle chemicals in a well-ventilated area. Wear appropriate safety equipment, such as goggles or a mask, as directed by the label.
  • Add pool chemicals as directed by the product label. Never mix different chemicals, especially chlorine and acid. Pre-dissolve chemicals only when directed by the label. Add pool chemicals to water but never add water to pool chemicals.
  • Wait until pool chemicals dissolve and/or dissipate before entering the pool.

Insurance Basics

Be sure to notify your insurance company that you have a pool and discuss appropriate coverage with your insurance professional.

In legal terms, pools are an “attractive nuisance,” and the additional risk may call for greater liability protection.5 If you own a pool, consider increasing your homeowners policy liability limits to $300,000 or $500,000. You might also purchase an umbrella liability policy that could provide extra protection for a wider range of risks.

In addition to liability coverage, you should have enough homeowners coverage to help repair or replace your pool if it is damaged in a severe storm or other type of disaster. Coverage for earthquake damage requires a separate policy.

Take the Pledge

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) promotes Pool Safely Pledges for children and adults as part of its Pool Safely campaign. These pledges summarize many of the safety tips stated above.

CPSC Pool Safely Pledges

Kid Pledge

I pledge that I will:

  • Pool Safely in 2019.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Ask my parents to sign me up for swimming lessons.
  • Stay away from drains in the pool or hot tub.
  • Have fun and always follow these safety steps when I’m in and around the water.

Adult Pledge

I pledge that I will:

  • Designate a water watcher every single time children in my care are in or near the water.
  • Make sure my kids know how to swim.
  • As a parent or guardian, learn CPR.
  • Always remove portable pool ladders when not in use.
  • Ensure all permanent pools have a proper fence and gate and safer drain covers.

If you or your children would like to take these pledges “officially,” you can do so at poolsafely.gov. The site includes more information on how to keep children, and yourself, safe around a pool.