Pool safety experts recommend using multiple protective options and remaining vigilant.
Heather Clark planned to build a pool for her home in the Carmel Valley area of San Diego, but she gave the project second thoughts when it came to baby proofing the pool for her two young children. “Several public safety announcements were stark reminders of how serious pool safety is with young children,” she says. She eventually hired Poolsafe of Escondido to add an automatic cover and a fence to her new pool for $7,000. “I felt much safer after Poolsafe recommended using two forms of safety in conjunction with each other,” she says. “That was the only reason I moved forward with the pool build.”
Pools present crucial safety concerns for families. According to the California Department of Public Health, drowning kills more children under the age of 5 each year than any other type of accident, with 50 California deaths in 2010, the most recent year numbers were available. From 2005 to 2009, 22 children under the age of 5 died in San Diego County. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a fence separating the pool from the yard reduces the drowning risk by 83 percent.
The California Swimming Pool Safety Act requires all pools and spas built or remodeled after 1998 to have at least one approved safety device, such as a fence that completely surrounds the pool. However, California officials strongly encourage homeowners, especially families with children, to use multiple protective methods, such as safety alarms and pool covers.
John Moss, safety consultant for Poolsafe, says his field is particularly important in Southern California, with its high number of residential pools. Features such as unusual shapes, rocks or waterfalls present unique challenges. “Every pool and every family will have different needs,” he says. “You want a consultant to think of all the things that might not occur to you.” Moss says. The price tags for pool covers vary widely, but a cover for an average-sized pool costs about $3,500 for a manual unit and between $7,000 and $8,000 for an automatic model, he says.
He also recommends augmenting water safety equipment with education. “We emphasize the ABCs of pool safety: Adult supervision, barriers and swimming classes,” he says. “All these things come together to improve safety.”
Rick English, a veteran pool builder and frequent expert witness in pool drowning-related court cases, now inspects pools as English Pool Consulting in San Diego. He says he often encounters dangerous pools, sometimes due to negligence. “A lot of people disable the fences or barriers after they pass inspection because they consider it a nuisance,” he says. “But the fence is the best protection because it’s passive. You don’t have to do anything to make it work.”
English adds that most homeowners hire a company besides the pool builder to install the covers and fences, and all pool cover and fence contractors must hold a state license. “I would recommend everyone have at least a pool fence, alarms on the doors and a sonar alarm system,” he says, adding that the alarm systems monitor unattended pools. He says homeowners can purchase and install basic door alarms relatively inexpensively themselves, and sonar systems tend to start at around $1,500 installed.
However, he advises that vigilance should go hand-in-hand with pool safety features. “It just takes a few minutes of the parents not watching for a child to end up face down in the water,” he says. “Even with a barrier between house and pool, nothing beats adult supervision.”