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New Pool Safety Gadgets Help Prevent Drowning

Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are most at risk for drowning, and adult supervision often isn't enough to prevent it.
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WebMD Feature

Among the good things about residential swimming pools is the fact that so much research has been done on pool safety. One outgrowth of that research has been the development of a vast number of products and devices that aim to keep your pool safe.

 

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There are fences designed with self-closing, self-locking gates and rigid covers that slide over the pool like horizontal garage doors. There are even several electronic alarms of various designs. One is worn on the child's wrist like a watch and sounds upon contact with water. Others sound an alarm when movement in pool water is detected.

 

"Nothing is foolproof when it comes to protecting children from drowning in a pool," says Mark Ross, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). "That's why we recommend that pool owners provide layers of protection."

 

Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are most at risk for fatal and nonfatal drowning, according to the CDC, which tracks drowning deaths. CDC data show that in children most drownings occur in residential swimming pools. In adults, most drownings occur in natural waters.

 

But the majority of child drownings occur when children get into the pool on their own. The CDC found that "most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at home at the time."

 

Figures from the CDC show that from 2001-2002, 775 children aged 14 and under died from drowning. While drowning rates have slowly declined, drowning remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children.

'Layers' of Pool Protection

The first and most important layer is constant, adult supervision during swim times. Other protective measures are important, too, says Ross. Here are some of their recommendations based on extensive product testing:

 

  • The pool should be surrounded by a fence at least 4 feet tall.

 

  • The fence should have self-closing and self-latching gates with latches that are out of the reach of children.

 

  • The fence should completely separate the pool from the house.

 

  • The door to the pool should have an alarm.

 

  • Install a rigid, power safety pool cover.

 

  • Install an underwater motion swimming pool alarm.

 

"We recommend at a minimum the type of alarm that attaches to the side of the pool and actually detects motion under the water, rather than those that monitor surface movement," said Ross. "Surface alarms can be triggered by wind moving the water, and you can get more false alarms."

 

Ross adds that the CPSC also tested a type of alarm that attaches to a child's wrist like a wristwatch. There are several models available. Some sound an alarm if the wrist band gets wet. Others sound when the band has been under water for a few seconds.

 

"We did testing on the wrist alarms," said Ross. "And while they are good as a backup layer of protection, we don't recommend them as highly as the underwater motion sensor because of the false alarm problem and because they are not as reliable."

 

The CPSC's evaluation of various types of pool alarms is available online at www.cpsc.gov/library/alarm.pdf.

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