Pool Owners Warned of Electrocution Risk

Electrocution dangers lurk in swimming pools and hot tubs. Is yours safe?

May 23, 2003 -- As pool season officially begins this weekend at public and private swimming pools across the country, federal safety officials are warning of hidden danger often overlooked by pool owners -- electrocution. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that electrical hazards in and around swimming pools have been responsible for 60 deaths and nearly 50 serious electrical shocks in the last 13 years.

Aside from taking steps to reduce the danger of drowning in backyard swimming pools, the CPSC says pool owners should also perform an electrical safety check before opening their pools to swimmers. Officials say the areas of biggest concern are:

  • Faulty underwater lighting
  • Aging electrical wiring that hasn't been inspected in years
  • Use of sump pumps, power washers, and vacuums that aren't grounded
  • Use of electrical appliances, such as radios and TVs, or extension cords that could fall or be pulled into the water.

All of these hazards pose an even greater risk if the lighting, circuits, and nearby receptacles are not protected by ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs), which greatly reduce the danger of electrocution.

"The best protection for families is inspection, detection, and correction of electrical hazards in and around swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas," says CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton, in a news release. "CPSC strongly encourages residential and commercial pool owners and operators to upgrade protection of the lights, receptacles, and switches with GFCIs. Older pools are the biggest concern, as underwater lighting fixtures may have degraded with age and may not be protected by GFCIs."

The CSPC and American Red Cross also warn that electrical hazards can cause multiple injuries when others jump in the water to aid someone who is incapacitated by electrical shock. They say parents and pool owners should have an emergency plan in place and posted in the pool area to instruct users on how to help someone who is suffering from electrical shock.

In case of an electrical emergency, the American Red Cross recommends turning off all power, using a fiberglass hook to carefully remove the victim from the water, administering CPR, and calling 911.

In addition, the CPSC offers the following safety tips to reduce the danger of electrocution around pools, hot tubs, or spas:

  • Know where all the electrical switches and circuit breakers for pool equipment and lights are located and how to turn them off in an emergency.
  • Refrain from swimming before, during, or after thunderstorms.
  • Have an electrician who is qualified in pool and spa repairs inspect and upgrade your pool, spa, or hot tub in accordance with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code (NEC).
  • Ensure that all electrical wires and junction boxes are at least five feet away from water, as required by the NEC.
  • Protect swimmers from injury by following the NEC requirements for installing GFCIs:
    • on underwater lighting circuits operating at 120-volts (CPSC recommends GFCIs for circuits that are 15 volts or greater);
    • on pumps and electrical equipment used with pools, spas, and hot tubs, including heaters close to the pool and operated on 240 volt circuits;
    • on electrical circuits around pools, spas, and hot tubs;
    • on all outdoor receptacles and receptacles within 20 feet of the water's edge to protect people from injury.
  • Test GFCIs monthly to assure continued protection. Infrequently used and portable or cord-connected GFCIs should be tested before each day's use. To test a GFCI:
    • Plug a nightlight into the outlet and turn the nightlight on.
    • Press the "TEST" button. Did the light go out? If not, replace the GFCI or have it inspected by an electrician.
    • Press the "RESET" button. Did the light come back on? If not, replace the GFCI.
    • Wear shoes while conducting the test, especially if outdoors or standing on wet ground.
  • Use battery-operated appliances instead of cord-connected appliances in and around a pool, spa, or hot tub.
  • Post an emergency plan within clear view of those using the pool.
  • Ensure that overhead power lines and junction boxes are safely positioned when installing a new pool, hot tub, or spa.

"Summer is a great time to relax -- except when it comes to water safety," says Connie Harvey, American Red Cross health and safety expert, in a news release. "Playing it safe in and around the pool and following a few simple guidelines will prevent many accidents."

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SOURCES: News release, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. News release, American Red Cross.
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