Hot Fun in the Summertime: Residential Pools, Safety, and the Law
On a hot, sunny day, there’s nothing like a dip in a pool full of cool, crisp water to refresh you. And how many of our children can resist a good splashing around with friends and family? But fun in the sun, unfortunately, can quickly turn deadly—even in a private pool you feel familiar with, and therefore trust.
Hundreds of children drown every year, with unintentional drowning a leading cause of death. Around 60 percent of these drowning deaths occur in pools, with most of these tragedies occurring in home pools, not public ones. Children under the age of five comprise 75 percent of all drowning deaths that happen in pools and spas.
Pool Drain Accidents: Hundreds of Pounds of Suction Force
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, the primary federal law on the subject, strives to prevent accidental drownings arising from the powerful suction of hot tub and pool drains. The seven-year-old child for whom the law is named, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III, became trapped by the powerful suction of a hot tub drain, and not even the adults who worked hard enough that they broke the drain cover were able to free her.
If you have a pool or spa, make sure that the drains or covers are the new style. If you are visiting someone else’s pool, take a look at the drains so that you know whether they have the newer-style drains or anti-entrapment covers. If you don’t like what you see, do not use the pool. The ZAC Foundation has a video you can watch so you will know what to look for.
Drain entrapments do still happen! Even if you feel sure the drains are okay, lessen the chances of an injury or death by following these suggestions:
- Tell swimmers to avoid drains.
- Do not use diving toys, because they often end up suctioned to drains.
- Securely tie back long hair.
- Do not wear jewelry or loose-fitting clothing in the pool.
- Do not leave children unsupervised in the pool or spa.
Private Pool Law in South Carolina
Residential pools in our state, unlike public pools, have no statewide regulations regarding barriers to unauthorized pool access. Although the South Carolina Building Code Council adopted the 2012 International Residential Code, the portion of the code that addresses pool enclosures was not adopted statewide. Therefore, that section of the code must be adopted locally and accepted by the state Uniform Code Council. Because of this, counties vary in their pool regulations. For example, Columbia, SC, lists requirements for fencing surrounding private pools, specifying such things as the fencing’s height, which is required to be at least four feet.
Gates: Another Problem Area
Gates can be a weak link when it comes to preventing unauthorized access and accidents in your pool. During August, 2015, a Berkeley, NJ, two-year-old was found unresponsive in a neighbor’s pool, which apparently did not have a gate to bar access.
Defective gates and latches can be the reason a horrible tragedy occurs. While gate regulations, like those relating to fencing, are local in SC, we can again take Columbia as an example. Gates must be lockable, self-latching, and self-closing, and must open away from the pool.
Premises Liability and Residential Pools
Because a pool is part of the owner’s property, premises liability rules apply when there is a lawsuit. If you are invited, or you invite someone, onto the property to use the pool, certain legal obligations come into play regarding the safety of the users of the pool or spa, and the condition of the pool or spa. Generally, guests must be warned of unsafe conditions, and any unsafe condition must be remedied within a reasonable period of time.
When it comes to trespassers, normally there is no responsibility to warn of unsafe conditions, and the person usually cannot sue you for any harm they incur while trespassing. But children are a major exception. Pools are considered an “attractive nuisance,” and therefore a property’s owner has an increased obligation to keep the pool and pool area safe, even if the child is trespassing. If a pool has inadequate fencing, gates, other lack of protections, or hazards, and a child enters the area without permission, the owner can be held liable if the child is injured or dies.
Generally, premises liability does not apply if an invited guest becomes injured while acting in an intentionally negligent fashion, such as by jumping on top of another person in the pool. However, the person who is jumped on, if injured, might well have a case.
Keeping Your Pool Safe for Everyone
Even if your own location does not specify regulations for private pools, it is in your best interests to be a responsible pool owner and prevent unauthorized access. Because children are drawn to pools, do your best to keep them out when they are not supposed to be there.
Besides adequate fencing and lockable gates, some further recommendations to help prevent tragedies on your property include:
- An emergency system shutoff for the pool’s pump
- Anti-entrapment drain covers
- A life preserver and an emergency telephone in the pool area
- Pool alarms, and alarms on the gates and doors leading to the pool area.