Over the past year, many of us have missed out on seeing friends and loved ones. If you are planning a summer gathering to make up for lost time, we urge you to consider water safety, especially if you own a backyard swimming pool.
With Massachusetts schools about to start summer break, there is a high level of distraction in many homes. Households may have family members working remotely and summer may add to the unpredictable schedules we established during the COVID-19 emergency. But you must be vigilant if you own a pool because the risk for injury is very real. One can drown quickly, in a matter of seconds, and those injured are often young children.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of 397 children were killed in swimming pool or spa submersions each year from 2016 to 2018. These children were all under 15 years old. During the same period, there was also an annual average of 6,200 children under 15 treated at hospitals for non-fatal injuries associated with pool or spa submersions.
Already in Massachusetts this year, we have seen several lives lost or nearly lost to drownings in swimming pools, ponds and lakes. In this blog, we focus on how homeowners can reduce the risk for injury and drowning in backyard swimming pools, and their legal responsibilities.
Massachusetts Property Owners Have a Duty to Use Reasonable Care
In Massachusetts, homeowners have a responsibility to use reasonable care to keep their property in reasonably safe condition. When it comes to swimming pools, a property owner’s duty starts with following Massachusetts building regulations to secure pools. They must also maintain safe areas around pools.
It is paramount that Massachusetts homeowners also exercise caution with alcohol. Homeowners can reduce the risk for many drownings and injuries by simply limiting their own alcohol consumption and that of all their guests of legal drinking age. Minors should never be allowed to consume alcohol or a homeowner can face criminal charges and a civil lawsuit if someone is injured.
Secure Your Swimming Pool With Strong Fencing
In Massachusetts, the state building code requires property owners to secure swimming pools behind 4-foot high fencing. There are different specifications for above-ground and underground pools, along with pools that use one side of the home as part of the fence.
Pools must be secured with locking devices that face outward away from the pool. The locks must be self-closing and self-latching.
Keep Pool Areas Free From Hazards
Be aware of other potential hazards beyond your actual pool. Your pool area may have outdoor furniture, rafts and floats, a diving board or a slide. One way to prevent a pool-related injury is to limit pool accessories. Secure the products you buy out of sight when you are not using your pool.
We caution you about purchasing diving boards and slides. Accidents involving these products can be serious, resulting in a head injury or a spinal cord injury, which can lead to long-term disability or death. Many homeowners have decided these are just not worth the potential safety risk.
Recognize that these products can be poorly designed or incorrectly installed. A product may not be the right fit for your pool design or reliably support your guests, even if it meets CPSC safety standards. However, if you choose to make a purchase, you should always hire an experienced pool professional to assist you with installation and your homeowner’s insurance agent to make sure your policy provides coverage.
Protect Young Children
In Massachusetts, property owners are responsible for securing pools from young children. Property owners can be held liable for drowning or other injuries suffered by young children, whether they are invited guests or are trespassing. The law recognizes that young children may not understand when they approach a potential hazard. As a property owner, think about how your pool looks from the street, from your yard and from inside your home. Bright-colored rafts and large crowds can quickly capture a child’s attention. Then think about how you have secured your pool.
Keep Gatherings Small
When you invite guests over, keep gatherings small so you can observe the pool area and enjoy the company.
Closely Monitor Guests Near Your Swimming Pool
Never invite anyone over to your home to use your swimming pool when you are not there or are engaged in another activity, such as work. Ask if adult guests know how to swim and if children have attended swimming lessons.
If you have young children, commit to watch them and any friends they invite over closely, even if they are not using your pool. Limit the size of gatherings so you can give the children your full attention.
Make the same commitment to safety if you are the parent of a teenager, even if you normally give them more freedom. Set summer rules and make sure your teen understands: they can only have friends over when you are home and gatherings should be kept small. They should always ask before using the swimming pool and you will not permit alcohol.
Whenever you have any guests over, check that your pool is fully secured before they arrive. Not just from outside, but also from guests and children in your home and backyard. Once your guests arrive, it can help to utilize a pool camera, sounding alarm or other technology, even if no one is using the pool. You can also take the low-tech approach of sitting outside where you can see both the pool and the gate. This step shows your guests and children you are truly committed to safety and want them to have fun, but also act responsibly so everyone gets home safely.
Restrict Alcohol Consumption by Your Guests; Never Allow Teens to Drink At Your Home
Carefully consider whether you want to allow your guests to consume alcohol in your home, especially when they come over to swim or are driving. This decision comes with a lot of responsibility. The easiest approach is to not allow alcohol consumption. If you do allow your guests to drink, practice moderation and good judgment. Never let them drive home under the influence.
As for swimming, remember that alcohol and pools are a dangerous combination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol use is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with all water recreation. Drinking beer or liquor in the warm weather can contribute to dehydration, which can raise the risk for drowning and submersion injuries.
Massachusetts recognizes social host liability. There can be serious consequences for bad decisions. Homeowners can face criminal charges, including jail time, if they allow minors under 21 to consume alcohol at their home or any property they control, under M.G.L. c. 138 § 34 . Parents can also be criminally charged and convicted if police can prove they left their home and were aware minors were consuming alcohol there in their absence. Minors can also be criminally charged.
In addition to criminal charges, a homeowner can also face a civil lawsuit from those injured as a result of a minor’s alcohol consumption at their home.
Limit Cell Phone Use and Distractions
One can easily become distracted by an email, text or social media and this can be dangerous if you have a pool. If you are checking your cell phone, you could miss the moment someone needs your help. Every second counts when it comes to saving someone from drowning. The best approach is to limit cell phone use and enjoy your guests. Keep both your home and cell phone nearby, but for emergencies only.
Free Legal Consultation – Boston Personal Injury Attorneys
At Breakstone, White & Gluck, our attorneys provide aggressive representation and are committed to achieving the best result for clients. Founded in 1992, our personal injury law firm specializes in representing those injured by the negligence or wrongdoing of others and our attorneys have been consistently recognized by Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. We have won numerous record-setting verdicts and settlements in negligence, product liability and medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts. We offer safety tips as part of our Project KidSafe campaign, through which we work to prevent injuries to children and families.
If you or a family member has been injured, learn your legal rights. We represent clients across Massachusetts, including in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Quincy, the North and South Shores, Cape Cod, Worcester and Central Massachusetts. For a free legal consultation, contact one of our Boston personal injury lawyers at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
As a pool owner, you have a responsibility to secure your pool with a strong, adequate fence. Many property owners do so because it is the law and to prevent neighborhood children or trespassers from breaking in. But they may have a false security when it comes to friends, families and young children they invite over.
Many pool accidents and drownings actually involve invited guests, people we may know well and have over regularly. Let them enjoy your home, but block unrestricted and unsupervised access to your pool.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted a survey of swimming pool accidents in Arizona, California and Florida. Data showed drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under age 5. Most of these children – 75 percent – were between 1 and 3 years old.
Fewer than two percent of pool accidents resulted from children trespassing on the property. More often, children knew the pool owner, with 65 percent of accidents occurring in pools owned by an immediate family member. Another 33 percent happened in pools owned by relatives and friends.
More telling is what happened before these accidents:
- Most of the children were being supervised by at least one parent when they drowned
- Nearly half of the children were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred
- Another 23 percent were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard
- Some 77 percent of children had been missing for 5 minutes or less when they were found
Adding an extra layer of fencing may make a difference in preventing these accidents.
Pool Fence Recommendations
- Self-Closing. A pool fence should be self-closing and self-latching. It should open from the pool side and should be maintained so it can easily latch.
- Fence Height. A pool fence should be at least four feet tall and four feet above the grade of the ground outside the fence.
- Release Mechanism. You want to prevent children from reaching the latch. When the release mechanism is less than 54 inches above the grade, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate and installed on the side facing the pool. Also, make sure there is no opening greater than ½ inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism.
- Bottom of the Fence. If your fence stands on a concrete surface, the clearance between the bottom of the fence and the ground should not exceed four inches. For fences on softer surfaces, such as grass, the maximum clearance is two inches.
- Fence Spacing. The space between the vertical fence slats should not exceed four inches.
- Chain Link Fences. For chain-link fences, the diamond-shaped openings should be no larger than 1 ¾ inches.
- Decorative Fences. Fencing with decorative openings should follow the same standard as chain link fences and not exceed 1 ¾ inch.
- Backyard Doors. Massachusetts requires pool alarms when doors from a home open into a pool enclosure area. For instance, if there are three sides of fencing around the pool and the home serves as the fourth side.
- Pool Alarms. Purchase a pool alarm even if you are not required to by law. Pool drownings happen quickly and often silently. A pool alarm interrupts that process and provides you warning if someone is entering the gate.
- Above Ground Pools. For above ground pools, build a fence on top of the structure as a barrier. Remove or lock the pool ladder when not in use. For another layer of protection, you can also add a fencing structure around the ladder and lock that when not in use.
- Pool Covers. Consider a power pool safety cover to add another layer of protection. Purchase one which conforms to the specifications in ASTMF 1346-91.
Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools, Consumer Product Safety Commission
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Our Boston personal injury lawyers have over 100 years combined experience handling personal injury and premises liability claims, including swimming pool accidents. If you or a family member has been injured, it is important to learn your rights. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports pool drownings have claimed the lives of 90 children in the U.S. since Memorial Day, a sober reminder for parents and caregivers to review how they are protecting their youth.
These figures were released for Pool Safely Day, an event being observed nationwide this week, from July 22 to July 29, 2012. In Massachusetts, the South Shore YMCA in Quincy and the Boys & Girls Club of Taunton were scheduled to host educational events.
The CPSC reported 90 children under age 15 have suffered swimming pool drownings and an additional 106 children in the same age category have required emergency response for near-drowning incidents at pools. The figures were released by the CPSC’s Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives campaign.
The figures show younger children are most vulnerable, with 72 percent of the drowning victims younger than 5 years old.
Parents should make sure their children have taken swimming lessons and instruct them on ways to protect themselves, such as to stay away from pool drains, pipes and other openings; stay in certain areas of the pool and only use diving boards after asking parents. Children 13 and older should also be trained in CPR.
Parents and caregivers should also:
- Stay close and alert when watching children in and around the pool.
- Never leave children unattended.
- Learn CPR.
- If you own a pool or spa, make sure it has appropriate safety equipment. At pools, that includes fencing, a lockable safety cover, drain covers which match federal requirements, life rings and a reaching pool. Spas should have lockable covers for when not in use.
Click here for a full list of pool safety tips from the Boston personal injury lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck of Massachusetts.
- Midsummer Drowning Checkup: 90 Child Drownings Nationwide since Memorial Day, Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Swimming Pool Accidents, Breakstone, White & Gluck.
- Pool Safely website.
- Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, Pool Safely.
A surprising study published last month revealed that one child in the U.S. dies every five days in portable swimming pools during the warm weather months.
The study published in the journal Pediatrics challenges the popular idea that in-ground swimming pools pose a much larger safety risk. This study is significant because drowning has become the second leading cause of death among children age one to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study reports 209 deaths and 35 near-drownings of children under 12 in portable pools from 2001 through 2009. More than 90 percent of the children were under 5 and 81 percent of the swimming pool accidents occurred during the summer months.
The study’s classification of portable pools includes small wading pools less than 18 inches deep, inflatable pools and other soft-sided pools up to four feet deep. The study was conducted by National Hospital and Independent Safety Consulting in Rockville, Maryland. Researchers say the findings are comparable to in-ground pool drownings.
Researchers say owners of portable pools often fail to take the same safety precautions as those who own in-ground pools. They set pools up quickly without taking the time to install fencing, pool alarms, safety covers and lockable ladders.
The numbers also show in many cases, children are swimming in portable pools without adult supervision. Children were supervised by parents in only 43 percent of the drownings and swimming pool accidents. Parents were home 73 percent of the time.
Read more about the study published in Pediatrics.
One million defective pool and spa drain covers are being recalled because they are incorrectly rated to handle the flow of water and pose a possible entrapment hazard.
No injuries have been reported. The safety drain covers are being voluntarily recalled by eight manufacturers and are not sold directly to consumers.
There are 6.2 million residential and public inground pools and inground spas in the United States and the pool drain cover recall affects fewer than 5 percent, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But the recall comes just a few weeks before schools in Massachusetts finish for the summer and it is unclear how many closures it may force among the state’s public swimming pools.
The federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act took effect December 19, 2008, tightening safety standards for drain covers sold to consumers and public pool operators. The recalled drain covers were installed after that, between December 19, 2008 and April 2011.
The new legislation has been credited with reducing fatal drownings and pool accidents caused by unsafe suctions. From 1999 to 2008, 12 people were killed in pool and spa entrapments and 72 suffered injuries, according to the CPSC. In 2009 and 2010, there were no deaths and 10 pool entrapment injuries reported.
The affected drain covers were sold through independent distributors to pool and spa builders and installers. The CPSC is advising consumers to contact their pool builder or pool service provider. Consumers can also visit the Drain Cover Recall web page maintained by The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals or call the association at 866-478-3521.
The manufacturers and pool service professionals will replace or retrofit the defective pool drain covers at no charge to consumers.
Consumers are advised not to use pools with the defective drain covers and not to attempt to replace the drain covers themselves.
The manufacturers involved in the pool drain cover recall are A&A Manufacturing of Phoenix, Arizona; AquaStar Pool Products Inc of San Diego; California, Color Match Pool Fittings of Surprise, Arizona; Custom Molded Products of Tyrone, Georgia; Hayward Pool Products of Elizabeth, New Jersey; Pentair Water Pool and Spa of Sanford, North Carolina; Rising Dragon USA, of E. Sweetwater, Tennessee and Waterway Plastics of Oxnard, California.
A recent Boston Globe editorial sheds an important light on how to prevent pool drownings.
The editorial points out that many states already have strong pool safety laws. For example, Massachusetts and nine other states have laws requiring fencing around pools. Safety groups also recommend pool gates be self-closing, self-latching and equipped with an alarm. Angelo Puppolo Jr., a state representative from Springfield, has further proposed mandating motion-detecting pool alarms and other safety measures.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission calls these steps, “layers of protection” and it’s an important concept to think about incorporating into your backyard pool – regardless of whether you have children.
The Boston Globe editorial, however, points out pool safety goes beyond the “layers of protection” strategy. Here’s a startling statistic shared in the editorial: nine out of 10 children who drown are being supervised by a parent or caregiver at the time.
This means we need to rethink how we supervise children in the pool. Listening while a child plays in the pool may not be enough. Drowning children are struggling to breathe, unable to call for help. Rather than splash, children will sink to the bottom of the pool.
When with a group of adults, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends designating someone the “pool watcher.” But with more than one child, the more eyes the better.
Read the Boston Globe editorial, “Pool Safety: Eyes on Kids at All Times,” Aug. 4, 2010
The warm weather is here and that means many Massachusetts residents can be found poolside. The pool is a fun spot for all ages, but it also poses safety risks. These risks can be reduced by the use of good judgment and common sense.
We want you and your loved ones to be safe. Sadly, each year, more than 300 children under 5 years old drown in residential swimming pools – often pools belonging to their own family. More than 2,000 children the same age are treated in hospital emergency rooms for pool-related injuries.
Here are common sense safety tips to help keep your family safe around the swimming pool:
- Learn CPR and make sure babysitters and older siblings have CPR training.
- Do not allow children to swim without supervision, even if they have attended swimming lessons.
- If a child is missing, check the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
- Install a fence or barrier around your pool. The fence should be at least 4 feet high and have a self-closing, self-latching gate.
- If the fence is chain link, then no part of the diamond-shaped opening should be larger than 1-3/4 inches.
- Install a pool alarm to alert an adult when someone enters the pool area unauthorized. A key pad switch alarm allows adults to pass through without setting off the alarm.
- Keep rescue equipment and a phone with emergency numbers by the pool.
- If there are multiple adults at the pool, designate one person the pool-watcher to avoid distractions.
- Ladders leading from the pool to the ground or to a pool deck should be locked or removed when the pool is out of use.
- Remove toys that may attract children from in and around the pool when they are not in use.
Summer is here and that means it is time to enjoy the pool – and think safety. Each year, thousands of children are injured in the pool and hundreds lose their lives in drowning incidents. So while we want you to enjoy your pool this summer, we ask you to commit to protecting your children and family.
Keep these safety tips in mind:
- Supervise children at all times. If you’re in a group, it’s easy to get distracted so consider designating someone a “pool watcher.”
- Learn how to swim and teach your children.
- Get CPR training.
- Keep a phone with you at the pool.
- Make sure you have proper rescue equipment and keep it nearby.
- Keep your pool inside a fence at least four-feet tall and secure it with a durable lock when not in use.
- Remember small children can drown in kiddie pools and watch them accordingly.
- Check your pool’s drains. Suction from a pool’s drain can be powerful enough to trap both children and adults underwater. Do not use any pool or spa with broken or missing drain covers. At community pools, ask the operator if the pool complies with the Pool and Spa Safety Act.
Why it’s important:
- Pools were involved in the overwhelming majority of emergency room visits for drownings and submersion injuries from 2006 to 2008 across the country. They accounted for the majority of reported drowning fatalities from 2004 to 2006.
- From 2006 to 2008, there were on average 3,100 pool and spa related emergency department visits nationwide involving drowning injuries.
- Children ages one and two accounted for 62 percent of drowning injuries from 2006 to 2008 nationwide.
For more information on pool safety, visit www.poolsafety.gov.
The statistics from this article come from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and is available here.