Pools Can Be Kid Dangerous
This article was published in the Houston Daily Journal on June 29, 2007.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 375 children under the age of 5 drowned in pools in 2005. Drowning ranks as the leading cause of death to young children in several Sunbelt states. The numbers on entrapment are also appalling. From 1990-2004, there were 74 cases of body entrapments including 13 deaths. 77% of these victims were under the age of 15. There were also 43 incidents of hair entanglements resulting in 12 deaths with a median age of 9 years old. Let’s take a look at what can be done to curb these numbers.
First, most of the drowning seems to occur where the pool has an improper barrier or where young children lack proper adult supervision. All pool barriers or fences should be at least 4 feet tall and there should be no opening in the fence that will allow an object greater than four inches to pass through. All gates should be self closing and self latching. The latch should be placed out of the reach of a small child. You should also keep rescue equipment available, and pool alarms can be used that will alert you when the surface of the water has been disturbed. Also try not to leave toys in the water that might attract a young child that strays into the pool area, and if a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count!
Second, one of the top concerns in the pool industry right now is how to prevent entrapments. Most entrapments that occur are typically young ladies with long, fine hair that becomes entangled around drains. It has been found that the design of the covers on the main drain as well as a pool’s flow rate has a relation to the cover’s ability to entangle hair. People and children with long hair do not need to swim into areas near main drains and skimmers. Drain covers made after 1982 are to conform to a design standard that lessons the entrapment hazard although some are better than others. Also, when changing pumps, replace the pump with another pump of the same performance. Do not install pumps of greater power.
Body entrapment, evisceration, and disembowelment are also an unfortunate reality in the pool industry. If you have a pool that has an uncovered drain, it is an accident waiting to happen. If you sense that there is the possibility of entrapment in your pool, do not do any entrapment test. It is best to replace the cover with a cover that has a large “open area” or grate. If the open area of a drain is small, the water speeds up around that area like putting your finger over the end of a water hose. Having adequate “open area” is especially important on pools with single main drains. And if it isn’t obvious if there is adequate open area, (and I’m guilty of this as well) stay away from the main drain area. But most importantly, children should ALWAYS stay away from main drains.
If you have serious concerns about these problems check to make sure your equipment is safety certified by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It’s no guarantee for safety, but equipment with these certifications has been adequately tested. There are also anti-entrapment devices that can be used. These devices sense if there is a problem and automatically cut off water flow. Otherwise, it is important that cut off switches for the pumps are readily accessible in the event of an emergency.
If you have any questions, contact an expert in the pool industry or your local Health Authority. We would be happy to offer any advice or provide educational materials.
Robert A Morgan
Environmental Health Specialist II
Houston County Health Department