By Eric Lupton, Safety Advocate and Life Saver Pool Fence President
An average of 290 children under the age of five drown in pools and spas every year. In 69% of those drownings, a parent was responsible for supervising the child and most occurred when a child was thought to be in the house but slipped outside without anyone knowing. In 77% of accidental drownings, the child had been seen 5 minutes or less before being missed and eventually found in the pool.
Supervision can and does fail, and which is why safety advocates urge families to use layers of protection before, during and after pool parties.
Before the Party
Check your pool safety fence
Make sure your pool fence has a self-closing, self-latching gate so children cannot wander into the pool area when parents are not around. Before the party, you’ll want to walk the length of the fence to ensure there are no gaps kids can climb through or areas they can climb over.
A mesh pool safety fence, like Life Saver Pool Fence, has proven to be an effective layer of protection with a transparent and aesthetically pleasing look that is easy to remove and reinstall by the homeowner. The best protection is to surround the pool with the fence, so there are no doors or windows leading directly from the home into the pool area.
Close doggy doors
Any pet doors that grant access the pool should be closed before the party begins and stay closed until the party is over. Toddlers are known to mimic pets and may follow them right out the doggy door and into the pool area putting them at risk of falling in. If possible, seal off the doggy door so a child cannot open it and get into the pool area.
Install locks on all doors and windows
It’s easy to install locks high and out of the reach of young children on every door and window that leads to the pool area. Some drownings happen because a parent or guest didn’t know their toddler had figured out the door knob or lock and the simply walked out on their own. Don’t forget sliding glass doors that small children can slide open.
No matter how hard we try, there are going to be brief moments when we are not looking directly at our children. Someone knocks on the door, the phone rings, your older child runs inside with a bloody nose — life happens. Implementing multiple layers of protection is the best way to make sure that these distractions don’t turn into tragedy.
That’s why every parent, babysitter, and teenager should also be trained in CPR. You can do it in a few hours. This training is essential to get oxygen to the brain and can make the difference between life, permanent disability, and death.
During the Party
Assign Water Watchers
When children are in the pool, assign one person as a designated Water Watcher and change shifts every 15 minutes. Active supervision means your full attention is on the children in the pool
- Sit close to the pool so you can see everything
- Give your phone to a friend so you are not tempted to take photos
- No books, magazines, or tablets
- Do a regular headcount
- Step in when there is too much horsing around
If you have to walk away for any reason, another adult must be designated as the Water Watcher. Do not leave a toddler or young child in the pool area without adult supervision. Older children are not always as sensitive to the dangers of drowning, and my not recognize the warning signs.
Know the signs of drowning
Most drownings don’t involve a lot of yelling or splashing around. Except in rare circumstances, people who are drowning cannot call out for help. While they may be able to pull themselves up momentarily above the surface of the water, they are not above the water long enough to exhale, inhale and yell for help.
Someone who is drowning also cannot wave for help. They cannot voluntarily control their arm movements, as they instinctively extend their arms laterally to press down on the water’s surface to try to leverage their bodies and lift their face out of the water.
Look for these signs of drowning:
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- Eyes closed
- Hair over forehead or eyes
- Body is upright and vertical, but there is no leg kick
- Hyperventilating or gasping
- Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
- Trying to roll over on the back
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
Consider child immersion alarms
The safest protection you can have for a child is a wearable immersion alarm, like the Safety Turtle, which triggers an alarm if the sensor gets wet. It resembles a watch and is great for pool parties when there is a lot of commotion. It can protect a child against all water hazards including ponds and rivers, and is portable so it can be used on vacation or when visiting.
After the Party
1.Remove toys after swimming
After the party is over, remove all toys, floats, balloons, or food. Children who are in pursuit of a toy won’t think twice about breaking the rules to get it, so you should never leave objects in the pool that could attract a child to the water.
Check the fence
Close the gate and make sure it locks properly. Also, move any tables or chairs away from the pool fence so they cannot be used to climb over. Isolate the pool area to be used for swimming only, so anyone who goes into the pool area after pool time is over will be more easily recognized.
Set your alarms
If you have an alarm on your pool gate, make sure you set it and give adults a bypass so kids can’t wander into the pool area. If the party has moved inside, consider setting a door alarm as well.
You can also get alarms for the pool itself. Surface pool alarms will trigger an alarm when the water’s surface is broken, however, a small child could quietly walk down the steps and slip under water without making a big splash or setting off the alarm.
Subsurface pool alarms are costlier, but detect disturbances beneath the surface. They are less prone to false triggers than floating alarms and more reliable than surface alarms.
Hundreds of families lose children to accident drowning each year. For every child drowning, 11 children manage to survive – but many suffer a disabling brain damage.
You cannot drown-proof a child, but every layer of protection that you add significantly reduces the chance of a child drowning incident– the more, the better. Of those steps, pool safety fencing is arguably the most effective at preventing fatal drowning incidents because it physically prevents access to the pool, making your pool safer for your children and your neighbors.
You wouldn’t own a car without seat belts. Don’t own a pool without protecting it.
Eric Lupton is a tireless advocate for pool safety who speaks nationwide to spread the word about drowning prevention. He is the President of Life Saver Pool Fence which is recognized by the CPSC as a Safety Leader, and the country’s largest pool fence company with all its fences made entirely in the USA.