As Pools Open for Summer, Young Children Face Drowning Risks

May 17, 2006
Release Number: 06-164

Agency Highlights Dangers from Inexpensive, Inflatable Pools as Death Reports Rise

With Memorial Day weekend just around the corner, many consumers are preparing to open their pools for the season. As consumers get ready for summer fun, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning about the increase in drowning deaths reported in inexpensive, inflatable pools, and again reminding parents and caregivers to take critical steps that will help protect children from drowning hazards in all types of pools.

CPSC reports there are about 280 drowning deaths of children younger than 5 each year in swimming pools, and an estimated 2,100 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for pool submersion injuries in 2005 – mostly in residential pools.

CPSC has reports of 17 drowning deaths involving inflatable pools in 2005, up from nine in 2004 and 10 in 2003. Small inflatable pools, about 2-feet deep, can cost as little as $50, and larger pools, up to 4-feet deep and 18-feet wide, can cost under $200. These pools often fall outside of local building codes that require barriers, and may often be purchased by consumers without considering the barriers necessary to help protect young children from the dangers of pools.

CPSC staff is working with the voluntary standards group ASTM International, consumer safety groups, retailers and inflatable pool manufacturers to develop safety standards for these products. Some local jurisdictions already require barriers for larger inflatable pools. For example, the state of New York requires fencing around any pool that is at least 2-feet deep.

"Parents need to understand any pool poses a drowning risk," CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton said. "Consider the danger of water before investing in an inflatable pool."

To reduce the risk of drowning, CPSC recommends layers of protection, including barriers, such as a fence with self-closing, self-latching gates completely surrounding pools to prevent unsupervised access by young children. If the house forms a side of the barrier, use alarms on doors leading to the pool area or a power safety cover over the pool.

It is important to always be prepared for an emergency by having rescue equipment and a phone near the pool. Also, all parents should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

"No one layer of protection is foolproof to prevent drowning in pools," said Stratton. "Use as many layers of protection as possible. Multiple barriers and constant supervision are essential to protecting children."

Many drowning deaths occur when young children are not expected to be near the pool area. In a CPSC study, almost 70 percent of the victims were last seen in the house or nearby on a porch or in the yard before the incident. Drowning can occur in the few minutes it takes to answer the phone. About 77 percent of the victims had been missing for 5 minutes or less when they were found. Precious time is often wasted looking for missing children anywhere but in the pool. Since every second counts, always look for a missing child in the pool first.

Parents may think that if their child falls in the water, they will hear lots of splashing and screaming, and that they will be able to come to the rescue. Many times, however, children slip under the water silently. Even people near the pool report hearing nothing out of the ordinary.

For more information about drowning prevention, read CPSC's Swimming Pool Safety Alert, Safety Barrier Guidelines for Pools and How to Plan for the Unexpected (all items PDF).

Also, CPSC recently updated its Guidelines for Entrapment Hazards: Making Pools and Spas Safer, which gives information on reducing drain entrapment dangers. CPSC recommends having a professional inspect pools and spas for entrapment hazards, and making sure appropriate drain covers are in place. The publication also identifies other important alternatives for addressing entrapment hazards in new and existing pools.

Copies of all these free publications can be obtained by going to CPSC's Web site at www.cpsc.gov, or by calling CPSC's Hotline at (800) 638-2772.