On a sizzling summer day, there's nothing better than taking a refreshing dip in a swimming pool. But that private oasis in your backyard can be a big safety hazard for kids.
More than 3,700 people drowned in the United States in 2016, the National Safety Council (NSC) reports. Drowning deaths are particularly prevalent among babies and toddlers. In fact, it was the leading cause of preventable death for one-to-four-year-olds in 2016.
However, there are precautions you can take to protect your children while still letting them have fun in the pool this summer.
Build a pool fence
Becky Turpin, director of home and community safety at the NSC, says the best safety measure homeowners can take is to install a fence around their pool. This forms a barrier that will keep kids out of the water when you're not outside to supervise them. Fence gates should open outward, away from the pool area, and be self-closing and self-latching, Turpin says.
Mark Montegani, owner of Pool Heaven in Huntington Beach, California, recommends a fence of six feet or higher. "There is always potential for a child to move objects and climb over the fence, so I say the taller, the better," Montegani says.
Have an aboveground pool? Enclose the steps or ladder to the pool with a fence.
Install an alarm system
Want to add an extra layer of protection to keep kids out of the water when you're not around? Install alarms that alert you when gates to the pool are opened. Also, consider buying an underwater swimming pool alarm system, which uses motion sensors to detect wave activity and alert you when anyone jumps or falls into the pool.
Ditch the diving board
"Diving boards are huge culprits for pool injuries," Montegani warns. "Even if you know how to dive, you can easily slip off the board and hit your head." Consequently, Montegani advises homeowners to remove diving boards from their pools. Swimming pool slides are also safety hazards to consider taking down.
Have rescue equipment and a first aid kit nearby
Make sure you have a life ring, rescue tube or life hook (also called a shepherd's hook) that you can use to pull someone from the water to safety. This rescue equipment should be stored near the pool in a clearly marked and accessible area, and periodically checked to make sure it's in good condition, according to the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. You'll also want to have a first aid kit on hand that's stocked with all essentials.
Inspect the pool area daily for slip hazards
Kids (and adults) can trip on objects and fall into the water if these items are left near the edge of the pool. Make sure floats, tubes, toys and cleaning equipment are stored away from the water when they're not in use.
Safely store chemicals
Pool chemicals help protect swimmers by killing disease-causing germs in the water, but they can also lead to injury when mixed together improperly or not handled using protective gear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's why Montegani says pool chemicals should always be stored out of reach in a locked, well-ventilated area.
Inspect drain covers
Drain covers can be death traps - literally. After a seven-year-old girl drowned because of the suction pressure from an underwater drain in a hot tub, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act in 2007 to provide basic safety standards for the nation's public pools. Although the law doesn't apply to residential pools, your drain covers "should be rounded covers, and there should be no cracks or missing screws," Turpin says.
Adults who have private swimming pools should be trained in CPR, Turpin says. A number of organisations such as the fire departments and hospitals offer CPR certification courses.
Set pool rules
Educate your loved ones on what pool conduct is and is not acceptable. You might even create a list of "official" pool rules that includes these basic instructions:
Don't run on the pool deck
Don't dive into shallow water
Don't push anyone into the pool
Don't swim without an adult present
Don't dunk or hold anyone underwater
Teach kids how to swim
"It's never too early or too late to learn how to swim," Turpin says. Many swimming classes are offered year-round. (Private lessons are worth the investment if your kid has trouble learning how to swim.) However, Turpin says, "Knowing how to swim doesn't make someone drown-proof, but it's an important skill that helps keep you safe when you're in the water."