Swimming pools have become a mandatory feature for property owners’ associations, hotel and resort guests, residential tenants, condo owners and fitness center members. Many of these customers do their homework when reviewing company websites; and photos of the pool features and amenities weigh heavily into their decision to book, rent, lease or buy. With this in mind, many pools and spas are beautifully designed, but may lack the desired safety features. This article will highlight the most common general liability hazards associated with swimming pools and what business owners can do to limit their risk.
Drowning and Near-Drowning
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)1, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of 1 and 4; and nationally, 3,536 people (of all ages) drown annually, which equates to almost 10 people per day. Another startling statistic from the CDC is that for every child in the United States who drowns, five other children receive emergency room care for pool related injuries. The following swimming pool safety features and basic guidelines can serve as life savers for people of all ages:
There is no substitution for parental and adult supervision. The watchful eyes of a parent or adult guardian can keep children and minors from getting themselves into dangerous situations and help when needed.
States vary in physical barrier standards and there is currently no national law or standard. However, the International Code Council (I.C.C.) has outlined strong safety standards for swimming pool fences and are widely accepted. Some state and local jurisdictions are more stringent, so it is best to check for your local and state requirements. Basic features include: 48” inch tall fencing; spacing between pickets at less than 4” inches; and self-closing and self-latching gates.
Swimming Pool Rules and Posted Signage
Most states and local jurisdictions require that certain signage and “pool rules” be “conspicuously posted” so that all users can quickly identify what is and what is not allowed. Many state and local jurisdictions require the following:
- “Warning - no lifeguard on duty”
- Pool and spa maximum occupancy
- Children under the age of 14 should not use the pool without adult supervision
- “No diving allowed”
- “Children not fully potty-trained must wear swim diapers”
- Pool and spa depth markings should be clearly marked near the water’s edge and be located between the maximum and minimum depth points.
- Sign listing the physical address of the swimming pool area so first responders can immediately locate the injured party.
Check your state and local requirements and to make sure minimum requirements are met.
No Alcohol and/or No Glass
The type of business establishment, who will be using the pool area, local and state alcohol limitations, and business owner’s personal preferences will determine if alcohol will be allowed. Either way, it is better to prohibit glass containers in the pool area to prevent cuts and other injuries.
No Electrical Equipment Near Water (Pool and Spa)
The potential for electrocution is a serious physical hazard and so electrical equipment must be properly installed and maintained according to the National Electric Code (NEC) and state or local codes.
Pool Safety Equipment
Although there are different requirements between states and local jurisdictions, the most common pool safety equipment includes:
- Body hook, aka: shepherd’s hook
- Life ring, aka: lifebuoy or lifesaver with connecting line/rope
- “In case of emergency, call 911” sign with letters at least one inch in height
ADA-Compliant Pool Lifts
Certain states have requirements for making public pools accessible to Americans with Disabilities (ADA). Even if not required in your state, it is always good to provide greater accessibility to all our citizens and to avoid the costly litigation that comes from an ADA lawsuit.
Chemicals Usage/Storage and Swimming Pool Area Maintenance
Having a qualified pool technician regularly service your pools and spas greatly reduces the chance of micro-biological organisms that could make your guests/tenants sick. The other consideration is to keep all chemicals and hazardous materials safely locked away. It is also a best practice to have your maintenance staff regularly inspect pool areas looking for trip and fall hazards, sharp edges along walking surfaces, adequate illumination/lighting, and that self-closing gates and latches are working as designed. The best walking surfaces are those with excellent friction in both wet and dry conditions.
Pool and Spa Heating Equipment Located Indoors
Most pool and spa heating equipment uses natural gas as the energy source. When the equipment is installed away from a building, any carbon monoxide build-up will not pose a threat to life safety. However, when the heating equipment is located within a structure or up against or near a window to a building, those units are affected. For this reason, carbon monoxide detection should be installed inside pool and spa equipment rooms to identify unsafe carbon monoxide levels, indicating a problem with the equipment or exhaust ducting.
Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA)
This law is named after a young girl who died in an accident in June 2002, when the suction from a spa drain entrapped her under the water. Your pool contractor should verify that the pool and spa are in compliance with this federally mandated law which took effect December 19, 2008. If not in compliance, immediately have a qualified pool contractor install the necessary equipment to ensure no one is ever entrapped or injured by the unsafe suction equipment and/or drains.
Always consult with a qualified licensed and insured Pool Contractor for the design, maintenance and renovation of a pool or spa. These professionals should know the applicable codes and laws and help prevent costly non-compliance issues.