The Allegheny County Health Department and the Department of Emergency Services are offering advice for all residents on how to stay safe and avoid danger while enjoying swimming pools this summer.
The Health Department’s Child Death Review Team examined nine local pool-related child drownings between 2000 and 2012 and found that, in several cases, children drowned despite knowing how to swim. They either did not have proper adult supervision or there was no barrier, such as a fence, between themselves and the water. In addition to the child deaths, at least five adults have drowned in swimming pools since 2000.
Most drownings involving children and adults, as well as general pool-related injuries and infections, can be prevented by taking the following precautions while enjoying residential or public swimming pools:
- Closely watch swimmers in or around the water. Designate a responsible adult who can swim, knows CPR and is not distracted by any other activity while watching children. Never leave children, even those who can swim, unattended in or around a pool. Keep a safety buoy at poolside and a first aid kit nearby.
- A fence or barrier at least five feet high should surround a permanent backyard pool, preferably without using the house as a barrier on any side. Gates should be self-closing, self-latching and open outwards, with the latch out of a young child’s reach.
- Barriers and fencing are particularly important for large inflatable pools that often have flexible sides which make it easy for little kids to climb into the pool.
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you own a residential pool.
- Don’t leave toys and floats in the pool that can attract young children and cause them to fall in the water when they reach for such items.
- Because every second counts when a child slips under water, always look for a missing child in the pool first and don’t waste precious time looking anywhere but in the pool.
- Don’t rely on water wings or toy flotation devices as life preservers for children.
- Keep tricycles and other riding toys out of the pool area.
- Don’t allow running on the deck, pushing into the pool or dunking.
- Never slide headfirst or dive into an above-ground pool.
- Don’t dive from a pool deck unless the water is at least five feet deep.
- For maximum safety never dive from a diving board unless the water is at least 11 feet deep.
- Teach children to respect lifeguards and follow the rules at public pools.
- Remove contact lenses before entering the water to reduce risk of eye infection.
- Drain and clean backyard kiddie pools after each use to minimize the risk of infection.
- Keep sick kids out of a pool, even if it’s filtered and chlorinated, especially a toddler still in diapers or one not yet toilet trained. Adults should also stay out of the water until well after they recover from diarrhea or other illness.
- Stay out of the pool and off wet ground when thunder or lightning approaches.
- Pools don’t mix with alcohol or drugs. Be extra cautious with anyone under the influence.
Likewise, the Department of Emergency Services has seen an increased number of calls related to swimming pool chemicals which can become a hazard when wetted or improperly mixed. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, news media reports over the last five years show a significant number of fires, toxic vapor releases and personnel injuries in which pool chemicals were a factor.
Residents with pools are encouraged to follow these tips for save handling:
- Educate yourself about pool chemicals – read product label and directions before each use and follow manufacturer’s instructions
- Never unseat more than one container at a time and never mix different types of pool chemicals together; do not mix old and fresh chemicals, even if they are the same product
- Use only pool chemicals in original, labeled containers – never use a chemical from an unlabeled container
- Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and keep that equipment clean and available for use
- Use dry tools to handle pool chemicals; use a separate, designated tool for each pool chemical – never use a tool or piece of equipment for more than one chemical
- Wash hands after working with pool chemicals
- Keep children and animals away from pool chemicals
- Add pool chemicals to water, not the reverse
- Respond to pool chemical spills immediately
- Never smoke while handling pool chemicals
- Do not store or consume food or beverage near handling locations
- Never pour chemicals down the drain or sewer; contact your local hazardous waste disposal facility for more information
Swimming pools can be a lot of fun on a hot summer day, whether you’re lounging and floating for a few hours, or playing any number of family water games. The majority of swimming pool accidents can be prevented with education and attentiveness when swimming or preparing your pool for use.