Preventing Child Drowning in Pools

An aquatic safety expert in one of our drowning cases–the tragic pool drowning death of a child–testified that in all his forensic work, he has never seen a state with more detailed, thorough, and readily available pool safety standards than the codes and publications in Washington State.

Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths of  U.S. children ages 1-14, and among 1-4-year old children, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools.  Washington has enacted detailed pool barrier requirements for two reasons: (1) children are attracted to water, and (2) the “human gate,” i.e. a parent or caretaker, is not effective 100% of the time.  Most young child drownings occur within five minutes of the child being seen inside the home.

Many pool barrier standards are described in WAC 246-260-031 , found here.  Fences must be either five or six feet high (depending on the type of pool and use) and constructed in a way that does not allow children to climb.  Access gates or doors must be self-closing and self-latching when opened from any distance.  The latch must not be accessible to children.

Washington’s Department of Health posts publications online, and the Washington State Environmental Health Association publishes its “Pool Operator’s Manual” containing guidance for recreational pool owners and operators.

The “Pool Operator’s Manual” warns, “you are choosing to be part of the industry and to assume the special risks and rewards that go along with pool ownership.” Pool operators are required to anticipate that children will not always be under direct parental supervision, and that children are creative in their exploration.  The manual encourages operators to invite a parent of a 3-4-year old child to inspect the facility for access points, for precisely this reason.

The Department of Health identifies two more critical features of a safe gate design: (1) the gate should open outward (pull rather than push), and (2) the gate must be constructed to function properly in spite of wear and tear.

These requirements are relatively simple and inexpensive to implement, and they save lives every day.