Swimming Pool Safety

by Sep 6, 2018

Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of American families confront tragedies caused in part by lack of swimming pool safety measures. These tragedies are preventable.

Swimming Pool Safety Statistics

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that about 300 children under 5 years old drown in swimming pools each year. More than 2,000 children under 5 require hospital emergency room treatment for submersion in swimming pools.

Here are some statistics from a study the CPAC did in California, Arizona and Florida.

  • Drowning was the leading cause of accidental death around the home for children under the age of 5.
  • 75% of the children involved in submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old. Boys between 1 and 3 years old were the most likely victims of fatal near-fatal submersion in residential swimming pools.
  • In most cases, one or both parents were supervising the victim when the swimming pool accident occurred.
  • Nearly half of these victims were last seen in the house before the incident occurred. In addition, 23 percent of the accident victims were last seen on the porch, on the patio, or in the yard.
  • This means that 69% of the time no one expected the victims to be in or near the pool.
  • 65% of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family.  33 percent of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.
  • Fewer than 2% of the pool accidents resulted from children trespassing on property where they didn’t live or belong.
  • 77% of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when someone found them in the pool drowned or submerged.

Why Do These Accidents Happen?

The speed with which swimming pool drowning and submersion can occur is a special concern. Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive and lack a realistic sense of danger. Therefore, these behaviors, coupled with a child’s ability to move quickly and unpredictably, make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households with young children.

In addition, swimming pool drownings of young children have another particularly insidious feature: these are silent deaths. It is unlikely that splashing or screaming will alert a parent or caregiver that a child is in trouble.

The best way to reduce child drowning’s in residential pools was for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there are no swimming pool safety substitutes for diligent supervision.

Barrier Guidelines for Swimming Pool Safety


  • First, the top of a pool barrier should be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool.

Distance between members

  • If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is more than 45 inches, the horizontal members can be on the side of the fence facing away from the pool.
  • Spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based on the head breadth and chest depth of a young child.
  • If there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
  • For a chain link fence, the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4 inches square unless slats, fastened at the top or bottom of the fence, are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.
  • A fence made up of diagonal members (latticework) should have openings in the lattice of 1-3/4 inches or smaller.

Above-ground pools

  • The pool structure itself can serve as a barrier. Also, you can mount a barrier on top of the pool structure.
  • Either secure the steps or ladder with a lock or remove them to prevent access.
  • If locking or removal are not possible, you can surround the steps or ladder with a barrier like those described above.

Bottom Clearance

  • For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measured on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.
  • If an above-ground pool has a barrier on the 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.

Gates for Swimming Pool Safety

Residential properties typically have two kinds of gates. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool safety barrier. Swimming pool barriers should have a gate or gates that restrict access to the pool.

  • The gates should have locks.
  • Gates should open out from the pool and should self-close and self-latch. That way, a young child pushing on an unlatched gate from the outside will close the gate and may engage the latch.
  • If the latch release mechanism is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, it should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. This prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch.
  • The gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2 inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This prevents someone from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.

Your Home’s Doors

In many homes, doors open directly onto the pool area or onto a patio which leads to the pool. In such cases, the wall of the house is an important part of the pool barrier. You should apply security measures to any doors to the outside, even if those doors don’t lead directly to the pool area.

For swimming pool safety, all doors to a swimming pool area should have an audible alarm that sounds when the door and/or screen are opened.

  • The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more within 7 seconds after the door is opened.
  • Of course, alarms should be loud – at least 85 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.
  • An automatic reset feature should be available.
  • Because adults will want to pass through doors without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows adults to temporarily deactivate the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The deactivation switch could be a touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm. This height is based on the reaching ability of young children.
  • Self-closing doors with self-latching devices could also be used to safeguard doors which give ready access to a swimming pool.

Indoor Pools

When a pool is located completely within a house, the walls that surround the pool should serve as pool safety barriers. Measures recommended above where a house wall serves as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls surrounding an indoor pool.


A portable spa with a safety cover which complies with ASTM F1346-91 should be exempt from the guidelines presented in this document. Swimming pools, hot tubs, and non-portable spas with safety covers should not be exempt from the provisions of this document.


With the right barriers and protection in place, your family, neighbors and friends can enjoy your pool without concerns about swimming pool safety. Summer and your pool will be fun again!

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