CPSC Discloses Pool Injury Study

June 22, 1978
Release Number: 78053

How safe is your swimming pool?

Do you consider it to be potentially hazardous?

What rules or warnings are posted to caution users against risk-taking, daring behavior? And what emergency care equipment is available?

Findings in a recent Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) - sponsored medical study on a selected group of 72 (serious) swimming pool injuries report that the owners of the pools where the accidents happened "were ignorant of the most basic pool safety practices."

The 72 case studies involved 64 spinal injury victims, 57 of whom suffered paralysis from the neck down. The study reports that 36 of the 57 quadriplegic cases had resulted from plunges into four feet or less of water.

It also reports that 46 of the pools where the accidents occurred had no depth markings; 43 pools (most residential) had no safety signs of any kind; in 51 cases, the accidents occurred in water four feet deep or less, and -- in only 20 situations was a telephone available.

The study, perhaps "a first of its kind," was made for the CPSC by a nine-member research team from the University of Miami School of Medicine (UMSM) and Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In a summary report announced jointly by CPSC and UMSM, the research team's recommendations call for a broad program of public education on swimming pool hazards and the need for the recognition of, and the immediate emergency care for, spinal injuries. It points to the need for state and local regulatory agencies to update and to correct deficiencies in their existing standards, codes and regulations governing the design of pools and certain equipment. It also calls for action by the swimming pool industry.

The pool industry, the researchers said, "should be responsible for developing and disseminating literature on pool safety, comprehensive pool maintenance, and emergency care procedures.

"Pool owners should be made aware of the fact that they are responsible for the safety of pool users and that it is not impolite but wise to familiarize pool users on safe conduct. A pool safety manual should also be specific to the pool purchase."

Of particular significance, the researchers report, was the fact that 63 of the accidents happened in residential, hotel, motel or apartment-owned pools. They report that examination of regulations in states where the accidents occurred indicated to the research group that their emphasis was more related to the sanitary aspects of pools than to safety. Furthermore, they report that most states have no regulations or laws governing residential pools.

Dr. Albert F. Esch, CPSC medical director, said the special study was undertaken "in an effort to get a real understanding of who or what was at fault in these accidents." Such accidents, he said, may be "small in number but catastrophic to the individual victims and their families."

CPSC estimates from figures received through its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) reports, that there were some 71,000 pool-related accidents of various types treated in hospital emergency rooms last year.

Although diving was the primary cause in 57 of the 72 serious injuries in the special study, water slides accounted for eight of the accidents. Seven victims were involved in miscellaneous activities, such as falling into a pool, attempting the rescue of another swimmer and one getting stuck in the bottom drain of a pool.

Of the 57 diving accidents, the study reports that 18 occurred in the shallow portion of variable depth in-ground pools and another 18 in above-ground, vinyl-lined, shallow water pools. In every instance, the researchers report, the injury came as a result of the victim's striking the head on the bottom. All sustained spinal cord injuries of sufficient magnitude to render the victim a quadriplegic.

At least 15 of those victims claimed that their hands slipped when they struck the bottom, thereby exposing their head to a contact with the pool bottom. All of these occurred in pools which employed a vinyl sheet as the water container.

The medical study team noted that in only 13 of the 72 cases studied was it indicated that proper rescue procedures were employed. They pointed out that in six of the cases, the victims "exited under their own power" and that three of the "proper" rescues eventually ended up as drowning cases.

The UMSM team was directed by Dr. Jerry E. Enis, chief, Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitationservice, and Dr. Bennett Sallman, director, Medical School Office of Research and Development, and included Dr. M. Alexander Gabrielsen, director of Studies in Human Habitability, Nova University.

Dr. James H. McElhaney, professor of Biomechanics, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, served as consultant on the biomechanics aspects of the study.