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Beating the heat while protecting your children

Guest Column

Spring has sprung, and the days are getting warmer (finally).

That means summer is on the way. And summer means swimming to a whole lot of us. Nothing is better on a hot day than plunging into a crystal clear pool to cool down. As we grab our goggles, floats, towels and sunscreen, though, we need to give some thought to staying safe as well.

There are 10 million pools in the United States and 6 million of them are residential pools. This doesn’t even count the rise in popularity of the ultra large portable, inflatable pools that can be up to four feet deep.

Unfortunately, with swimming comes the possibility of drowning, and people do drown.

This year alone, you can expect 3,000 people to drown across our country. That’s almost ten per day on average. Young children are particularly at risk. Small children under the age of 4 account for 30% of the drowning deaths, and for children under the age of 14, drowning represents the second leading cause of all deaths.

Fortunately, with a little knowledge, planning and caution, we can greatly reduce the odds of such a catastrophe and get back to enjoying our fun in the sun and water.

It is important to know that all pools open to the public are regulated by the state.

The Department of Health maintains fairly stringent regulations regarding the operation and maintenance of public pools.

For example, the number of lifeguards required depends on the size of the pool (essentially, one life guard per 3,000 square feet of water) and the number of people at the pool (the more crowded, the more lifeguards, regardless of size of pool).

Also, all lifeguards must be observing from an elevated lifeguard chair so they can adequately view their area of responsibility.

Here are some other requirements: Water must be clear enough that you can drains and other gratings while standing on the edge of the pool.

Pools shall use a sanitization method that ensures bacteria are kept at a level of less than 4 coliform bacterial per million and there shall be NO algae.

The pH levels shall be maintained at between 7.2 and 7.6. Lifesaving equipment, such as pole hooks and life rings shall be readily accessible (within 25 feet of the pool) and at each lifeguard chair.

There are also regulations regarding adequate lighting in and around the pool, appropriate fencing around the pool and safe storage of chemicals for sanitization.

Residential pools provide a particular challenge, however, as they are not covered by the same set of Department of Health regulations.

Nonetheless, many people regularly swim in a residential pool at least once per year. So, what steps can pool owners take to make their swimming pools as safe as possible? And what should things should a parent whose child is visiting a friend with a pool inquire about?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission actually has a list of ten items critical to keeping everybody safe:

1. Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that you can teach children to hold their breaths and swim to the surface as early as one year old.

A small child who can hold their breath for at least five seconds and reach the surface of the water stands a significantly better chance of being saved than one who cannot.

2. Install a fence around the entire perimeter of the pool and use self-closing and self-latching gates that cannot be opened by young children. This will keep your child away from the water unless there is adult supervision.

The CPSC recommends the fence be at least four feet tall, but optimally five feet or more in height.

3. Never leave a child unattended in or near a pool or spa and always watch children closely around all bodies of water.

4. Designate a “Water Watcher” to supervise children in the pool or spa. This person should not be reading, texting, using a smart phone or be otherwise distracted. Adults can take turns being a Water Watcher.

5. If a child is missing, look for them in the pool or spa first. Completely rule out that the child is in the water before moving on to look elsewhere.

6. Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments. Filters that suck water in can be especially hazardous, as they can create powerful vacuum effects if completely covered by a body and may make it impossible for a child to get away to the surface to breath.

7. Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety requirements in order to prevent the vacuum effect as described above. These drain or filter covers should be designed in such a way that they cannot suction a person’s body to them.

8. Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults, and update those skills regularly.

9. Install and use a lockable safety cover on your spa.

10. Have lifesaving equipment such as a life ring, float or fiberglass reaching pole available and accessible at a moment’s notice.

One other item recommended by the National Swimming Pool Foundation is to have adequate lighting in and around the pool. Even at night, it should be easy to look in the pool and see someone in it. This makes it easier to notice if somebody is struggling and will prevent injuries due to one swimmer jumping into the pool on top of another.

Finally, if you own a pool, look into getting some training in pool safety and maintenance through resources such as the National Swimming Pool Foundation or the American Red Cross. Owning a pool is a wonderful thing. It can provide hours of entertainment, relaxation and fitness. There is no better way to beat the heat of the summer. But there is a responsibility for providing a safe environment in which to enjoy some swimming that goes along with pool ownership. Training courses will help educate you about the hazards present in your modern pool and allow you to take precautions to avoid those hazards.

I hope all of you can get out to a pool this summer and enjoy a cool dip. Just remember to keep an eye out for each other, keep the tips above in mind, and be safe!