As the weather warms up, swimmers across the country are heading out to backyard, community and public pools, hot tubs and spas. When it comes to pool safety, drowning is the first concern that comes to mind; but today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Red Cross are warning of another hidden danger to swimmers: electrocution. There have been 60 deaths and nearly 50 serious shocks reported over the past 13 years involving electrical hazards in and around swimming pools.
The CPSC is most concerned about faulty underwater lighting; aging electrical wiring that hasn't been inspected in years; the use of sump pumps, power washers, and vacuums that are not grounded; and electrical appliances (such as radios and TVs) and extension cords falling or being pulled into the water. All of these hazards present an even greater risk if the lighting, circuits, and nearby receptacles are not protected by Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters (GFCIs) – the best safety device to prevent 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. "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 CPSC and the American Red Cross are also warning swimmers that electrical hazards around a pool, hot tub or spa can lead to multiple deaths or injuries. This occurs when an individual becomes incapacitated by stray current in the water and one or more persons jump in or reach out to save the victim, resulting in multiple electrocutions or serious shocks.
In May 2002, a 14-year-old girl from Arlington, Texas, was electrocuted when wiring problems in an apartment swimming pool's underwater lights charged the water with electricity. A 16-year-old boy was seriously shocked when he jumped in the pool to try to save the young girl. Another teenager used a fiberglass shepherd's hook (a non-conductive device) to pull both victims from the water.
Parents and pool owners should have an emergency plan (pdf), posted in the pool area, to safely help someone who is suffering an electrical shock. This action is necessary to prevent the victim from drowning and to protect others from the harm of electrical energy in or around the pool.
In an emergency, the American Red Cross recommends turning off all power; using a fiberglass hook to carefully remove the victim(s) from the water; administering CPR; and calling 911.
For more information about electrical safety around pools, hot tubs or spas, consumers should contact CPSC at (800) 638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov. Consumers also can view our publications, "Don't Swim With Shocks – Electrical Safety In and Around Pools, Hot Tubs and Spas," and "Install Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter Protection for Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs".
CPSC's Safety Tips For Preventing Electrocutions In and Around the Pool
-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.