Summer is right around the corner, and plenty of outdoor activities are near. Swimming pools are popular for both the young and young at heart, but no matter the amount of water or the age of the swimmer, pool safety is a number one priority.
Derek Lenze, the Founder of Floating Authority, shared his regular lifeguard experience and experience with backyard pools, which we’ve summarized below. As you talk to your kids about pool safety, here are a few points to cover:
For starters, teach children to swim as early as possible so they can be comfortable in the water. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children begin learning at the age of 1. Children with some form of swim training are at a lower risk of drowning, but they should still be supervised.
Parents should take a CPR class and review the steps regularly to be prepared as a last line of defense. As a start, the American Red Cross offers free resources and certification classes in your area.
If you have a home pool, make sure you have barriers at least five feet tall to avoid children climbing over and install a childproof gate. Keep emergency equipment handy, too. It’s best to have a life ring, rope, pole and cell phone to call for help if needed. Remember that pool toys aren’t considered emergency equipment. Only use Coast Guard-approved equipment for precautionary measures or to rescue someone.
Pool toys can be very tempting for children to jump in after. As soon as you leave the pool, be sure to take all toys, towels and other items with you to reduce the likelihood of children dangerously chasing after them. If you own a pool, install a childproof safety cover for both child and pet safety.
You should also install drain covers to prevent children’s limbs from getting stuck in pool drains. Pool and spa drains can create underwater suction with enough force to trap even strong swimmers below the surface. Several tragic accidents have occurred where children pulled into the drain did not only drown or nearly drown, they also suffered physical injuries from the drain itself.
In 2008, the Virginia Graeme Baker (VGB) Act passed, requiring all public pools to have anti-entrapment drain covers. Home pools are not bound by this law, but drain safety should be considered a requirement nevertheless. Make sure all drain covers are clean, VGB-compliant, and not broken or missing.
Children should not be able to get over, under or through the pool wall or fence by themselves. Exact recommendations depend on the style of barrier and the type of pool you have. Since local regulations vary or may not exist, these pool barrier guidelines from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are a good place to start:
Fences around pools should be a minimum of four feet high; 5 feet or higher is preferable.
Spaces in the fence should not be wide enough for a small child to fit through. If a fence has vertical bars, they should be no more than four inches apart.
Holes, cutouts or stones in a wall or fence should not be big enough to provide hand and footholds. If there are cutouts in the fence (such as decorative shapes or lattice holes) make sure the openings are less than 1 ¾ inches wide.
Chain link fences should not exceed 1 ¼ inches square. If the fence mesh is too large, attach vertical slats to close off the openings.
Don’t put structures (like benches or large stones) nearby. These objects can help a child hop the fence.
Gates to the pool area should have self-closing latches that are beyond the reach of children. No fence is secure if the gate isn’t closed.
Parents and teens that are comfortable with pools and shallow water aren’t exempt from safety precautions to avoid.
Beware of unforeseen traps in the pool such as railings or other pool equipment. Whether you’re in a backyard or community pool, you should always keep the area around the pool clear to avoid accidents and falls. Don’t run on the pool deck — the water can lead to slips and falls. And as much fun as it may seem, never push people into pools. “This is very dangerous as the person being pushed is not expecting it and cannot brace for impact properly,” Lenze shared.
Most importantly, adults should never drink alcohol while swimming — the impaired judgment can impact decision-making.
Lenze also advises to keep pools clean from harmful bacteria and you shouldn’t get in a pool if you’ve been sick within 48 hours because you could spread the illness in the water.
When used properly, chlorine kills waterborne bacteria and parasites in a way that’s harmless to humans. But less-than-clean pools and mishandled chemicals can lead to irritation, illness and even fires or explosions.
Keep chemicals completely out of reach of children, preferably locked up. They should be stored separately from other household cleaners due to the potential for chemical reactions that can cause combustions. The storage area should be kept clean from leaves, dirt and other debris; chemical spills should be cleaned up immediately. Request material safety data sheets (MSDS) from your pool chemical dealer and keep them nearby in case you have any questions about how to use, handle or store the cleaning agents.
Lindsey Mondick, an aquatics expert at the YMCA of USA shared a few tips to keep your family safe in the pool this summer.
“The YMCA typically teaches more than 1,000,000 children invaluable water safety and swimming skills each year, but with most Y pools currently closed due to COVID-19, much of this safety programming will be on hold through the next few months,” Mondick shared. “It’s, therefore, important that parents know how to take water safety into their own hands.”
Keep an eye on the water: Never swim alone or without a water watcher. Make sure kids are actively supervised at all times. Most importantly, teach children that they shouldn’t swim in areas where a lifeguard isn’t on duty or where a responsible adult can watch the water without distractions. Children should be within arm’s reach at all times.
Play safely: Don’t engage in breath-holding games or activities. Children should never hold their breath for a prolonged period of time while swimming. Doing so could lead to drowning or severe physical side effects.
Use the right swim gear: If you’re new to swimming, inexperienced or not used to swimming it’s best to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for your safety. Make sure the life jacket fits you and your children correctly before getting in the water.
Reach, Throw, Don’t Go: Don’t jump in after a friend. Instead, teach children to “Reach, Throw and Don’t Go.” Use a long object to reach for them such as a ring buoy that’s at least 20-40 feet to rescue them. Once they’ve latched on, pull them to safety. It’s the safest way to help save someone without risking your own life.
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