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Swimming Pools


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Avoid tragedy—and liability—this swim season by keeping your pool or spa safe.

Pools offer fun and a welcome break from the Sacramento heat. But pools can be dangerous, too. Drowning leads to hundreds of deaths and many more injuries in California each year. According to the California Department of Public Health, in 2010, there were 396 drowning deaths and 1,393 more were hospitalized or treated and released in the state; in Sacramento County alone, 21 people died and 70 were injured. Children under 10 accounted for many of the deaths and about half of the injuries.

Not only are swimming accidents tragic and preventable, they can also subject homeowners to serious legal liability if they haven't taken "reasonable precautions."

So what's "reasonable?" If you own or rent a home with a pool, you must vigilantly supervise swimmers; keep the pool equipment in good condition; and provide barriers to prevent unsupervised use of the pool, spa, or hot tub. If you don't take such "reasonable" precautions, you may be sued for any deaths or injuries that result—even if the injured person didn't have permission to use the pool.

Supervision is vital. Watch kids at all times—drowning can occur in a frighteningly short time. It's important to keep adults in line, too. Don't allow guests of any age to run near the pool, make unsafe dives, or swim while intoxicated. Make sure no one, young or old, swims alone.

Maintenance is also important. Uneven paving or unusually slippery surfaces, broken lifesaving equipment, damaged ladders and slides, or broken or ineffective fences or pool covers can all be dangerous. Contaminated water can lead to illness—make sure you are using the right amount of chemicals, and that you and your guests keep the pool clean. It's particularly important to take children on regular bathroom breaks and check diapers regularly.

Barriers such as fences and safety covers play an important role in preventing accidental drowning, especially in young children. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 69% of child drowning victims were last seen in the house, patio, or yard before finding their way into the pool. Effective barriers or alarms go a long way toward preventing these injuries and deaths.

Because barriers are so helpful, California Health & Safety Code Sections 115922 requires that newly-built or remodeled private pools have one of seven listed safety features (such as a fence, door or pool alarms, or safety pool covers). The City of Sacramento's code is more specific: it requires that new or remodeled pools be enclosed by fences with self-latching gates (§15.64.070), and makes failure to fence or cover a pool an infraction (§9.16.090). Your pool may also be cited by the County of Sacramento as a "nuisance." The rules may be different in different cities and counties, and may be affected by changes in state law. Check with your city or county building department for current rules in your area.

Whether or not these laws apply to your pool, they are a good guideline to what "reasonable" precautions may mean. Adding them can keep your family, guests and neighbors safe, and protect yourself from lawsuits.  

Links:

Statistics source: CDPH Vital Statistics Death Statistical Master Files, http://epicenter.cdph.ca.gov. Generated on: May 04, 2013.

For more details on supervision (in English and Spanish), visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at http://www.poolsafely.gov/ .

For information on protecting swimmers from illness, visit the Center for Disease Control's website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/resources/fact-sheets/ .

For information on safety barriers, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's site at http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/122222/pool.pdf 

For more tips on barriers and on supervising swimmers, check out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's "Pool and Spa Safety Publications" at http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/Pools-and-Spas/  or the California Department of Health Services Safety Guide at http://www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/injviosaf/Pages/DrowningPrevention.aspx

California's "Swimming Pool Safety Act" (Heath & Safety Code 115920 et seq.): http://1.usa.gov/jhqnmX

Sacramento City Code: http://www.qcode.us/codes/sacramento/  

By Kate Fitz, Public Services Librarian
Updated 5/2013