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Summer Pool Safety: Provide Layers of Protection to Keep Your Child Safe

By Gayle Whitworth, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, University of Florida, Brevard County
Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is honor of National Water Safety Month.

The weather is warming up, and around the country (especially in Florida!) it’s getting to be swimming pool weather. Families nationwide get a lot of pleasure, recreation, and exercise from their time in backyard and community swimming pools.

However, we always need to be aware of the dangers that pools can pose, especially to children. Sadly, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to five years, and the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 15 years. Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for children ages one to five years, with rates 300% higher than the national average. More than 80% of drowning deaths for children under the age of 15 occur in pools. For every pool drowning, four non-fatal drowning incidents occur, with 20% of survivors experiencing severe and permanent neurological disabilities. Parents and caregivers may not realize that a child can drown in less than two minutes, or that they may not hear a child fall in a pool because there usually is no splash or scream.

No single device or solution can prevent child drowning, although attentive supervision is the most important force against drowning. Children need to be wrapped in “layers of protection,” according to the Florida Department of Health. Much like they would be wrapped in layers to protect them from the cold, “layers” of supervision, education, and safety equipment and devices can help to keep children safe around swimming pools.

Supervision: Stay Close, Be Alert, Watch Children

The first and most important layer is supervision from a fully attentive adult. Children should never be left unattended in a pool or spa, and younger children must also be supervised in or excluded from any area with pool access. Parents need to communicate about who is supervising swimming children, and there should always be a designated “Water Watcher” (or two or more!) around the pool, especially during social events such as pool parties. A “Water Watcher” is an adult whose duty it is to keep visual contact with and supervise swimming children. Water Watchers should not take care of other jobs or socialize during this time. To make things easier, switch off this task every 15 or 30 minutes and use a special “Water Watcher” tag (available online) so people know who has the job. And of course, infants, toddlers, and early swimmers should always have a supervising adult in the water with them, within arm’s reach.

Education: Learn to Swim

Swimming is not an instinctive skill for humans, but clearly is a vital layer that can literally help a child survive a fall into a pool. When considering swim lessons, make sure the instruction includes water safety and survival skills taught at an age appropriate level. Also, even after a child has learned the basics, he or she will benefit from additional lessons geared toward improving swimming skills. Children can be taught survival skills and how to swim at an early age, but should never be considered “drown proof,” as even an Olympic swimmer can drown. And parents, if you know how to swim, teach your child; if you don’t know, take this chance to learn, for your child’s safety and your own enjoyment. In addition, children should be told to stay away from pool drains, pipes, and openings to avoid entanglement and becoming lodged in a suction opening or drain cover. Even more simply, toys should be taken out of the pool after swim time so children do not go in after them.

Preparation: Safety Equipment and Devices

Physical barriers that limit access to a pool or spa area provide another layer of protection against a water accident. These include four-foot-high fencing around the property line or perimeter of the pool area, isolation fencing (both permanent and removable), self-closing and self-latching gates, and alarms on pool gates and house doors. Also install pool and spa safety covers (lockable, where possible) and make sure that they are in good working order. Look for covers whose manufacturer specifies that they meet ASTM specifications, and never allow children or pets to play on these covers. Ladders for above-ground pools should be removed or otherwise made inaccessible when the pool is not in use.

Alarms can help parents secure a safer pool and spa environment. We’ve probably all heard of children who wandered into a pool area without an adult knowing. In some cases, the child opens a house door or pool gate on their own. Alarms alert adults of unauthorized access to the pool area and the water, and allow adults to respond to an emergency quickly. Alarms can be installed on doors and windows, on gates, on the surface, or below the water. Companies now even sell special alarms that attach to a child’s wrist and sound an alarm if the child enters water.

Preparation: Emergency Response

Preparing for an emergency is the final “layer” in protecting children. Emergency response involves having the tools and skills needed to respond to an accident. This includes having a cordless phone poolside in case of an emergency, and obtaining certification in CPR and rescue breathing. It’s also strongly recommended that parents and caregivers take a water safety and rescue course and have rescue equipment poolside, such as a life ring and/or shepherd’s crook.  Finally, whenever a child is missing, always check the pool first.

Although water activities require a safety-minded point of view, they’re also lots of fun. With these guidelines and precautions in place, it should be easier for families to enjoy a safe, happy summer around the pool.

(Photo credit: Learning to swim by North Charleston. CC BY 2.0. Cropped, contrast adjusted.)

Further Reading

References:

ICC, Southern Nevada Chapter. (n.d.) Facts about swimming pool drowning accidents. Retrieved from http://snicc.org/files/uploads/Facts_about_Swimming_Pool_Drowning_Accidents.pdf

Florida Department of Health. (n.d.) Injury prevention. Retrieved from http://www.floridahealth.gov/prevention-safety-and-wellness/injury-prevention/index.html

Pool Safely. (n.d.) Simple steps save lives. Retrieved from http://www.poolsafely.gov/parents-families/simple-steps-save-lives/

Whitworth, G. (June, 2009). Layers of protection: Keeping kids safe in and around pools. UF/IFAS Exension – Brevard County. Printable brochure. Retrieved from http://brevard.ifas.ufl.edu/fcs/PDF/layers%20of%20protection.pdf

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