Preventing Child Drownings

Each year, thousands of American families suffer swimming pool tragedies. The majority of the incidents involve drownings and non-fatal drownings of young children. These pool and spa injuries and deaths involve young children, ages 1 to 3 years old, and happen in residential settings. These tragedies are preventable.

This article offers guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most drowning incidents involving young children. This is for owners, purchasers, and builders of residential pools, spas, and hot tubs.

The guidelines recommended in this article will help make pools safer, promote pool safety awareness, and save lives. Barriers are not the sole method to prevent drowning of young children in pools; and barriers can never replace adult supervision.

The State of Texas has specific guidelines for pool safety and safety barriers. They can be found here:

Swimming Pool Barrier Guidelines

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for 1- to 4-year-old children. Each year, nearly 300 children under age 5 drown in swimming pools. Many of these young victims could be saved if homeowners fenced in their pools completely and installed gates with self-closing and self-latching devices.

Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive, and they lack a realistic sense of danger. These behaviors in children make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households with young children.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reviewed a great deal of data on drownings and child behavior and studied information on pool and pool barrier construction. Staff has concluded that one of the best ways for pool owners to reduce child drownings in residential pools is to construct and maintain barriers that will help prevent young children from gaining access to pools and spas.

The CPSC guidelines suggest ways for pool and spa owners to keep children from entering the pool area unaccompanied by a supervising adult. The guidelines also consider the variety of barriers available, and the guidelines specify how each type of barrier might be susceptible to a child trying to get on the other side of the barrier and into the pool or spa.

The swimming pool barrier guidelines are presented with illustrated descriptions. The definition of a “pool” includes spas and hot tubs. Therefore, the CPSC swimming pool barrier guidelines apply to these structures, as well as to above-ground pools and, possibly, larger portable pools.

CPSC publishes an annual report on drowning and non-fatal drowning incidents. Key findings from the 2017 report include:

  • Nearly 300 children younger than 5 drown in swimming pools and spas each year, representing 77 percent of the 356 fatalities reported for children younger than 15.
  • Children ages 1 to 3 years (12 months through 47 months represented 65 percent of the reported fatalities and 61 percent of reported injuries in pools and spas.
  • More than 4,400 children younger than 5 suffered non-fatal drowning injuries and required emergency department treatment.
  • The majority of fatal drowning incidents and non-fatal drowning injuries involving victims younger than 5 years old occur in pools owned by family, friends, or relatives.
  • Residential locations dominated incidents involving victims younger than 5 years old. Seventy-four percent of the fatalities occurred at residential pools or spas.
  • Portable pools accounted for 4 percent of the total fatalities, with an average of 13 deaths per year for children younger than 15.

Barriers

Locations

Barriers should be located to prohibit children from using permanent structures, equipment, or similar objects to climb the barriers.

Construction

A barrier that completely surrounds the pool is better than a fence that encloses the pool on three sides with the house serving as the fourth side of the barrier. Fences should be a minimum of 4 feet high. However, fences 5 feet or higher are preferable.

If an outside wall of the home serves as one side of the barrier, install door alarms on all doors leading to the pool area. Make sure the doors have self-closing and self-latching devices or locks that are beyond the reach of children. This will keep children from opening the doors and gaining access to the pool.

Pool covers add another layer of protection. There are a wide variety of pool cover styles on the market. Make sure that the pool cover is well maintained, and keep the control device for the pool cover out of the reach of children.

An effective pool barrier prevents a child from going 
Over, Under, or Through 
the barrier and keeps children from accessing the pool when supervising adults are not present.
Kids Climbing Fence

How to Prevent a Child from Going OVER a Pool Barrier

A young child can climb over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low or if the barrier has handholds or footholds that children can use to climb. The top of a pool barrier should be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the exterior side of the fence or barrier.

Eliminate handholds and footholds on barriers and minimize the size of openings when constructing a barrier.

Make sure that there are no indentations or protrusions on the barrier that may allow a child to climb over the barrier.

For a Barrier with Horizontal and Vertical Members

If the distance between the top side of the horizontal members of the barrier or fence is less than 45 inches high, then the horizontal members should be located on the interior side of the fence.

The spacing between vertical members and within decorative cutouts should not exceed 1¾ inches. This size is based on the foot width of a young child and is intended to reduce the potential for a child to gain a foothold and attempt to climb the barrier.

If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is more than 45 inches high, the horizontal members can be located on the exterior side of the fence. The spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based on the head breadth and chest depth of a young child and is intended to prevent a child from passing through or getting stuck in an opening.

For a Chain-Link Fence

The openings in the mesh of a chain-link fence should not allow a sphere 2-1/4 inches in diameter to pass through. According to Sec. 757.003 of the Texas Health and safety Code, The use of chain link fencing materials is prohibited entirely for a new pool yard enclosure that is constructed after January 1, 1994.

For a Fence with Diagonal Members or Latticework

The maximum opening in the latticework should not exceed 1¾ inches.

For Above-Ground Pools

Above-ground pools should have barriers. The pool structure can serve as a barrier if the walls of the pool are high enough, or if a barrier can be mounted onto the top of the pool structure.

If the pool walls are not high enough, or there are other structures close to the pool, such as a ladder or a table or a chair, often children are able to access the pool. There are ways to prevent young children from climbing and gaining access to an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder leading to the pool can be designed to be secured, locked, or removed to prevent access; or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as the barriers described in these guidelines.

Above-Ground Pool with Barrier on Top of Pool

If an above-ground pool has a barrier on top of the pool, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool and the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches.

How to Prevent a Child from Going UNDER a Pool Barrier

For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above the surface or ground, when the measurement is done on the outside of the barrier. If the bottom of the gate or fence rests on a non-solid surface, such as grass or gravel, industry recommends that the clearance should not exceed 2 inches.

How to Prevent a Child from Going THROUGH a Pool Barrier

To prevent a child from going through a pool barrier, restrict the size of openings in the barrier, and use self-closing and self-latching gates.

To prevent a young child from going through a fence or other barrier, make sure all openings in the barrier are small enough to prevent a 4-inch diameter sphere from passing through any opening. This size is based on the head breadth and chest depth of a young child.

Portable Pools

Portable pools are becoming more popular. Portable pools vary in size and height, from tiny blow-up pools to larger designs that can hold thousands of gallons of water. Portable pools present a real danger to young children.

Never leave children around a portable pool unsupervised. Portable pools should be fenced, covered, or emptied and stored away when not in use. Tell neighbors, friends, and caregivers that you have a portable pool and advise them of the potential dangers of a portable pool in your yard.

Removable Mesh Fences

Mesh fences are made specifically for swimming pools or other small bodies of water. Although mesh fences are meant to be removable, the safest mesh fences for pools are locked into the pool deck so that the fence cannot be removed without extensive use of tools.

Like other pool fences, mesh fences should be a minimum of 48 inches in height. The distance between vertical support poles and the attached mesh, along with other manufactured features, should be designed to keep a child from climbing the fence. The removable vertical support posts should extend a minimum of 3 inches below grade, and they should be spaced no farther apart than 40 inches. The bottom of the mesh barrier should not be more than 1 inch above the deck or installed surface.

Children Going Through Gate

Gates

There are several kinds of gates that might be found on a residential property: pedestrian gates and vehicle or other types of gates. Gates can be used as a swimming pool barrier. All gates should be designed with a locking device.

Pedestrian Gates

These are gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with one or more gates that restrict access to the pool.

Gates should open out from the pool and should be self-closing and self-latching. With this design, if the gate is not closed completely, a young child pushing on the gate in an effort to enter the pool area will actually be closing the gate, which may then safely latch.

When the release mechanism of the self-latching device on the gate is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the interior side.

Placing the release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch.

Additionally, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than ½ inch within 18 inches of the latch-release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.

All Other Gates (Vehicle Entrances)

Other gates should be equipped with self-latching devices. The self-latching devices should be installed as described for pedestrian gates.

When One Side of the House Forms Part of the Pool Barrier

In many homes, doors open directly from the house to the pool area or to a patio leading to the pool. In these cases, the side of the house that leads to the pool is an important part of the pool barrier. Passage through any door from the house to the pool should be controlled by security measures.

The importance of controlling a young child’s movement from the house to the pool is demonstrated by the statistics obtained from the CPSC drowning reports. Incidents at residential locations dominate the accidents involving children younger than 5, accounting for 87 percent of fatalities and 54 percent of injuries (from the CPSC 2015 Pool or Spa Submersion Report, page 3).

Door Alarms

All doors that allow access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm that sounds when the door and/or screen are opened.

Alarms should meet the requirements of UL 2017, General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems, Section 77, and have the following features:

  • The alarm sound should last for 30 seconds or more and start within 7 seconds after the door is opened.
  • The alarm should be loud: at least 85 dB (decibels), when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism.
  • The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell, and smoke alarm.
  • The alarm should have an automatic reset feature to deactivate the alarm temporarily for up to 15 seconds, to allow adults to pass through house doors without setting off the alarm. The deactivation switch could be a touchpad (keypad), or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold and out of the reach of children.

Self-closing doors with self-latching devices could be used along with door alarms to safeguard doors that give access to a swimming pool.

Pet or Doggy Doors

Never have a pet or doggy door if the door leads directly to a pool or other backyard water. An isolation barrier or fence is the best defense when pet doors are installed. Remember, pet door openings, often overlooked by adults, provide curious children with access to backyard adventures. Locking these doors is not sufficient and could lead to accidents and tragedies. Children regularly drown in backyard pools that they were able to access through pet doors. Some municipalities have building codes that prohibit doggy doors in homes with pools, unless there is an isolation fence around the pool.

Power Safety Covers

Power safety covers can be installed on pools to provide security barriers, especially when one side of the house serves as the fourth wall or side of a barrier. Power safety covers should conform to the specifications in the ASTM F 1346-91 standard, which specifies safety performance requirements for pool covers to protect young children from drowning.

Indoor Pools

When a pool is located completely inside a house, the walls that surround the pool should be equipped to serve as pool safety barriers. Guidelines recommended for using door alarms, pool alarms, and covers where the house wall serves as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls surrounding an indoor pool.

Texas Health and Safety Code
Title 9. Safety
Subtitle A. Public Safety
Chapter 757. Pool Yard Enclosures

  1. Except as otherwise provided by Section 757.005, the owner of a multiunit rental complex with a pool or a property owners association that owns, controls, or maintains a pool shall completely enclose the pool yard with a pool yard enclosure.
  2. The height of the pool yard enclosure must be at least 48 inches as measured from the ground on the side away from the pool.
  3. Openings under the pool yard enclosure may not allow a sphere four inches in diameter to pass under the pool yard enclosure.
  4. If the pool yard enclosure is constructed with horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is at least 45 inches, the openings may not allow a sphere four inches in diameter to pass through the enclosure.
  5. If the pool yard enclosure is constructed with horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the openings may not allow a sphere 1-3/4 inches in diameter to pass through the enclosure.
  6. The use of chain link fencing materials is prohibited entirely for a new pool yard enclosure that is constructed after January 1, 1994. The use of diagonal fencing members that are lower than 49 inches above the ground is prohibited for a new pool yard enclosure that is constructed after January 1, 1994.
  7. Decorative designs or cutouts on or in the pool yard enclosure may not contain any openings greater than 1-3/4 inches in any direction.
  8. Indentations or protrusions in a solid pool yard enclosure without any openings may not be greater than normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints on the side away from the pool.
  9. Permanent equipment or structures may not be constructed or placed in a manner that makes them readily available for climbing over the pool yard enclosure.
  10. The wall of a building may be part of the pool yard enclosure only if the doors and windows in the wall comply with Sections 757.006 and 757.007.
  11. The owner of a multiunit rental complex with a pool or a property owners association that owns, controls, or maintains a pool is not required to:
    1. build a pool yard enclosure at specified locations or distances from the pool other than distances for minimum walkways around the pool; or
    2. conform secondary pool yard enclosures, located inside or outside the primary pool yard enclosure, to the requirements of this chapter.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. Except as otherwise provided by Section 757.005, a gate in a fence or wall enclosing a pool yard as required by Section 757.003 must:
    1. have a self-closing and self-latching device;
    2. have hardware enabling it to be locked, at the option of whoever controls the gate, by a padlock or a built-in lock operated by key, card, or combination; and
    3. open outward away from the pool yard.
  2. Except as otherwise provided by Subsection (c) and Section 757.005, a gate latch must be installed so that it is at least 60 inches above the ground, except that it may be installed lower if:
    1. the latch is installed on the pool yard side of the gate only and is at least three inches below the top of the gate; and
    2. the gate or enclosure has no opening greater than one-half inch in any direction within 18 inches from the latch, including the space between the gate and the gate post to which the gate latches.
  3. A gate latch may be located 42 inches or higher above the ground if the gate cannot be opened except by key, card, or combination on both sides of the gate.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. If a pool yard enclosure is constructed or modified before January 1, 1994, and no municipal ordinance containing standards for pool yard enclosures were applicable at the time of construction or modification, the enclosure must comply with the requirements of Sections 757.003 and 757.004, except that:
    1. if the enclosure is constructed with chain link metal fencing material, the openings in the enclosure may not allow a sphere 2-1/4 inches in diameter to pass through the enclosure; or
    2. if the enclosure is constructed with horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is at least 36 inches, the openings in the enclosure may not allow a sphere four inches in diameter to pass through the enclosure.
  2. If a pool yard enclosure is constructed or modified before January 1, 1994, and if the enclosure is in compliance with applicable municipal ordinances existing on January 1, 1994, and containing standards for pool yard enclosures, Sections 757.003, 757.004(a)(3), and 757.004(b) do not apply to the enclosure.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. A door, sliding glass door, or French door may not open directly into a pool yard if the date of electrical service for initial construction of the building or pool is on or after January 1, 1994.
  2. A door, sliding glass door, or French door may open directly into a pool yard if the date of electrical service for initial construction of the building or pool is before January 1, 1994, and the pool yard enclosure complies with Subsection (c), (d), or (e), as applicable.
  3. If a door of a building, other than a sliding glass door or screen door, opens into the pool yard, the door must have a:
    1. latch that automatically engages when the door is closed;
    2. spring-loaded door-hinge pin, automatic door closer, or similar device to cause the door to close automatically; and
    3. keyless bolting device that is installed not less than 36 inches or more than 48 inches above the interior floor.
  4. If French doors of a building open to the pool yard, one of the French doors must comply with Subsection (c)(1) and the other door must have:
    1. a keyed dead bolt or keyless bolting device capable of insertion into the doorjamb above the door, and a keyless bolting device capable of insertion into the floor or threshold; or
    2. a bolt with at least a 3/4-inch throw installed inside the door and operated from the edge of the door that is capable of insertion into the doorjamb above the door and another bolt with at least a 3/4-inch throw installed inside the door and operated from the edge of the door that is capable of insertion into the floor or threshold.
  5. If a sliding glass door of a building opens into the pool yard, the sliding glass door must have:
    1. a sliding door handle latch or sliding door security bar that is installed not more than 48 inches above the interior floor; and
    2. a sliding door pin lock that is installed not more than 48 inches above the interior floor.
  6. A door, sliding glass door, or French door that opens into a pool yard from an area of a building that is not used by residents and that has no access to an area outside the pool yard is not required to have a lock, latch, dead bolt, or keyless bolting device.
  7. A keyed dead bolt, keyless bolting device, sliding door pin lock, or sliding door security bar installed before September 1, 1993, may be installed not more than 54 inches from the floor.
  8. A keyed dead bolt or keyless dead bolt, as described by Section 757.001(6)(A)(i), installed in a dwelling on or after September 1, 1993, must have a bolt with a throw of not less than one inch.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. A wall of a building constructed before January 1, 1994, may not be used as part of a pool yard enclosure unless each window in the wall has a latch and unless each window screen on a window in the wall is affixed by a window screen latch, screws, or similar means. This section does not require the installation of window screens. A wall of a building constructed on or after January 1, 1994, may not be used as part of a pool yard enclosure unless each ground floor window in the wall is permanently closed and unable to be opened.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. Each door, sliding glass door, window, and window screen of each dwelling unit in a residential building located in the enclosed pool yard must comply with Sections 757.006 and 757.007.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.
  1. An owner of a multiunit rental complex or a rental dwelling in a condominium, cooperative, or town home project with a pool or a property owners association that owns, controls, or maintains a pool shall exercise ordinary and reasonable care to inspect, maintain, repair, and keep in good working order the pool yard enclosures, gates, and self-closing and self-latching devices required by this chapter and within the control of the owner or property owners association.
  2. An owner of a multiunit rental complex or a rental dwelling in a condominium, cooperative, or town home project with a pool or a property owners association that owns, controls, or maintains a pool shall exercise ordinary and reasonable care to maintain, repair, and keep in good working order the window latches, sliding door handle latches, sliding door pin locks, and sliding door security bars required by this chapter and within the control of the owner or property owners association after request or notice from the tenant that those devices are malfunctioning or in need of repair or replacement. A request or notice under this subsection may be given orally unless a written lease applicable to the tenant or written rules governing the property owners association require the request or notice to be in writing. The requirement in the lease or rules must be in capital letters and underlined or in 10-point boldfaced print.
  3. An owner of a multiunit rental complex or a rental dwelling in a condominium, cooperative, or town home project with a pool or a property owners association that owns, controls, or maintains a pool shall inspect the pool yard enclosures, gates, and self-closing and self-latching devices on gates no less than once every 31 days.
  4. An owner’s or property owners association’s duty of inspection, repair, and maintenance under this section may not be waived under any circumstances and may not be enlarged except by written agreement with a tenant or occupant of a multiunit rental complex or a member of a property owners association or as may be otherwise allowed by this chapter.Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 517, Sec. 2, eff. Jan. 1, 1994.

Rule # 1: Never leave a child unattended around a pool, spa, bath tub, or other body of water.

At pools, spas, and other recreational waters:
  • Teach children basic water safety skills.
  • Learn how to swim and make sure your children know how to swim.
  • Avoid entrapment accidents by keeping children away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings.
  • Have a phone nearby at all times when visiting a pool or spa.
  • Know the address of your location so that you can direct emergency personnel to the scene, if needed.
  • If a child is missing, look for the child in the pool or spa first, including neighbors’ pools or spas.
  • Share safety instructions with family, friends, babysitters, and neighbors.
If you have a pool:
  • Install a 4-foot non-climbable fence around the perimeter of the pool and spa, including portable pools.
  • Use self-closing and self-latching gates. Ask neighbors to do the same if they have pools or spas.
  • If the house serves as the fourth side of a fence around a pool, install and use a door or pool alarm and/or a pool or spa cover.
  • Maintain pool and spa covers in good working order.
  • Ensure that any pool or spa that you use has anti-entrapment safety drain covers. Ask your pool service representative if you do not know.
  • Have life-saving equipment—such as life rings, floats, or a reaching pole—available and easily accessible.

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