Safety Guidelines for Home Pools
Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately,
each year thousands of American families confront swimming pool
tragedies, drowning and near-drowning of young children. These
tragedies are preventable. These are guidelines for pool
barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents
involving young children. This designed for use by owners,
purchasers, and builders of residential pools, spas, and hot
tubs. These guidelines are not intended as the sole method to
minimize pool drowning of young children, just helpful safety
tips for safer pools.
Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come
close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools.
CPSC has estimated that each year about 300 children under 5
years old drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency room
treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 years
of age who were submerged in residential pools. CPSC did an
extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drowning
and near-fatal submersions,
In California, Arizona and Florida, states in which home
swimming pools are very popular and in use during much of
the year. In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was
the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home
for children under the age of 5 years.75 percent of the
children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning
accidents were between 1 and 3 years old. Boys between 1 and
3 years old were the most likely victims of fatal drowning's
and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.
Most of the victims were being supervised by
one or both parents when the swimming pool accident
Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house
before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23 percent
of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or
patio, or in the yard.
This means that fully 69 percent of the children who became
victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be
in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in
65 percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the
victims immediate family, and 33 percent of the accidents
occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.
Fewer than 2 percent of the pool accidents were a result of
children trespassing on property where they didn't live or
77 percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been
missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the
pool drowned or submerged.
The speed with which swimming pool drowning's and submersions
can occur is a special concern: by the time a child's absence is
noted, the child may have drowned. Anyone who has cared for a
toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are
inquisitive and impulsive and lack a realistic sense of danger.
These behaviors, coupled with a child's ability to move quickly
and unpredictably make swimming pools particularly hazardous for
households with young children.
Swimming pool drowning's of young children have another
particularly insidious feature: these are silent deaths. It is
unlikely that splashing or screaming will occur to alert a
parent or caregiver that a child is in trouble. The best way to
reduce child drowning's in residential pools was for pool owners
to construct and maintain barriers that would prevent young
children from gaining access to pools. However, there are no
substitutes for diligent supervision.
Why the Swimming Pool Guidelines Were
Young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too
low or if the barrier has handholds or footholds for a child to
use when climbing. The guidelines recommend that the top of a
pool barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the
side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool.
Eliminating handholds and footholds and minimizing the size
of openings in a barriers construction.
For a solid barrier no indentations or protrusions should be
present, other than normal construction tolerances and masonry
joints. For a barrier (fence) made up of horizontal and vertical
members if the distance between the tops of the horizontal
members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be
on the swimming pool side of the fence. The spacing of the
vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4 inches. This size is
based on the foot width of a young child and is intended to
reduce the potential for a child to gain a foothold. If there
are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the
cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
The definition of pool includes spas and hot tubs. The swimming
pool barrier guidelines therefore apply to these structures as
well as to conventional swimming pools.
How to Prevent a Child from Getting OVER a Pool Barrier
A successful pool barrier prevents a child from getting OVER,
UNDER, or THROUGH and keeps the child from gaining access to the
pool except when supervising adults are present.
The Swimming Pool Barrier Guidelines
If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is
more than 45 inches, the horizontal members can be on the side
of the fence facing away from the pool. The spacing between
vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based
on the head breadth and chest depth of a young child and is
intended to prevent a child from passing through an opening.
Again, if there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the
space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
For a chain link fence the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4
inches square unless slats, fastened at the top or bottom of the
fence, are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4
For a fence made up of diagonal members (latticework) the
maximum opening in the lattice should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
Aboveground pools should have barriers. The pool
structure itself serves as a barrier or a barrier is mounted on
top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to
prevent young children from climbing up into an aboveground
pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked
or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be
surrounded by a barrier such as those described above. For any
pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier
should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is
done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.
If an aboveground pool has a barrier on the top of the pool, the
maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool and the
bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches. Preventing a
child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by
restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier and by using
self-closing and self-latching gates.
To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other
barrier, all openings should be small enough so that a 4-inch
diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the
head breadth and chest depth of a young child.
There are two kinds of gates which might be found on a
residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a
swimming pool barrier.
Pedestrian Gates are the gates people walk
through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with a gate
or gates which restrict access to the pool. A locking device
should be included in the gate design. Gates should open out
from the pool and should be self closing and self-latching. If a
gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely
latched, a young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the
pool area will at least close the gate and may actually engage
the latch. When the release mechanism of the self-latching
device is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the
release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below
the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the
release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from
reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch. Also,
the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2
inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This
prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and
releasing the latch.
Other gates should be equipped with self-latching
devices. The self-latching devices should be installed as
described for pedestrian gates.
How to Prevent a Child from Getting UNDER / THROUGH a Pool
In many homes, doors open directly onto the pool area or onto a
patio which leads to the pool. In such cases, the wall of the
house is an important part of the pool barrier, and passage
through any doors in the house wall should be controlled by
security measures. The importance of controlling a young child's
movement from house to pool is demonstrated by the statistics
obtained during CPSCs study of pool incidents in California,
Arizona and Florida. Almost half (46 percent) of the children
who became victims of pool accidents were last seen in the house
just before they were found in the pool.
All doors which give access to a swimming pool should be
equipped with an audible alarm which sounds when the door and/or
screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more
within 7 seconds after the door is opened and should be loud, at
least 85 decibels, when measured 10 feet away from the alarm
mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds
in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm.
The alarm should have an automatic reset feature. Because adults
will want to pass through house doors in the pool barrier
without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch
that allows adults to temporarily deactivate the alarm for up to
15 seconds. The deactivation switch could be a touch pad
(keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54
inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm.
This height was selected based on the reaching ability of young
Power safety covers can be installed on pools to
serve as security barriers. Power safety covers should conform
to the specifications in ASTM F 1346-91. This standard specifies
safety performance requirements for pool covers to protect young
children from drowning. Self-closing doors with self-latching
devices could also be used to safeguard doors which give ready
access to a swimming pool.
When a pool is located completely within a house, the walls that
surround the pool should be equipped to serve as pool safety
barriers. Measures recommended above where a house wall serves
as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls
surrounding an indoor pool.
An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, aboveground,
or on-ground pool, hot tub, or spa, should be provided with a
barrier which complies with the following:
1. The top of the barrier should be at least 48 inches above
grade measured on the side of the barrier which faces away
from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance
between grade and the bottom of the barrier should be 4
inches measured on the side of the barrier which faces away
from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure
is above grade, such as an aboveground pool, the barrier may
be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted
on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted
on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance
between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the
barrier should be 4 inches.
2. Openings in the barrier should not allow passage of a
4-inch diameter sphere.
3. Solid barriers, which do not have
openings, such as a masonry or stone wall, should not
contain indentations or protrusions except for normal
construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.
4. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical
members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal
members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members
should be located on the swimming pool side of the fence.
Spacing between vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4
inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing
within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in
5. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical
members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal
members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical
members should not exceed 4 inches. Where there are
decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not
exceed 1-3/4 inches in width.
6. Maximum mesh size for chain link fences should not exceed
1-3/4 inch square unless the fence is provided with slats
fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings
to no more than 1-3/4 inches.
7. Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such
as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the
diagonal members should be no more than 1-3/4 inches.
8. Access gates to the pool should be equipped to
accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates should
open outward, away from the pool, and should be self-closing
and have a self latching device. Gates other than pedestrian
access gates should have a self-latching device. Where the
release mechanism of the self-latching device is located
less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate. The release
mechanism should be located on the pool side of the gate at
least 3 inches below the top of the gate. The gate and
barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2 inch within
18 inches of the release mechanism.
9. Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier,
one of the following should apply:
All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall
should be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible
warning when the door and its screen, if present, are
opened. The alarm should sound continuously for a minimum of
30 seconds within 7 seconds after the door is opened. The
alarm should have a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dBA
at 10 feet and the sound of the alarm should be distinctive
from other household sounds, such as smoke alarms,
telephones, and door bells. The alarm should automatically
reset under all conditions. The alarm should be equipped
with manual means, such as touchpads or switches, to
temporarily deactivate the alarm for a single opening of the
door from either direction. Such deactivation should last
for no more than 15 seconds. The deactivation touch pads or
switches should be located at least 54 inches above the
threshold of the door.
The pool should be equipped with a power safety cover which
complies with ASTM F1346-91 listed below.
Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with
self-latching devices, are acceptable so long as the degree
of protection afforded is not less than the protection
afforded by the above.
10. Where an aboveground pool structure is
used as a barrier or where the barrier is mounted on top of
the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or
The ladder to the pool or steps should be capable of being
secured, locked or removed to prevent access.
The ladder or steps should be surrounded by a barrier. When
the ladder or steps are secured, locked, or removed, any
opening created should not allow the passage of a 4-inch
These guidelines are intended to provide a means of protection
against potential drowning's and narrowing to children under 5
years of age by restricting access to residential swimming
pools, spas, and hot tubs.
A portable spa with a safety cover which complies with ASTM
F1346-91 listed below should be exempt from the guidelines
presented in this document. Swimming pools, hot tubs, and non
portable spas with safety covers should not be exempt from the
provisions of this document