Injury Prevention Policy
Isolation Fences Around Residential Swimming Pools
How big is the problem?
In 1997, accidental drowning was the third leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4 in the U.S. and the leading cause of death among this age group in Arizona and Florida (1). It is estimated that for every ten children who drown, 36 are admitted to hospitals and 140 are treated in emergency rooms (2). Toddlers are often at high risk for drowning due to their curiosity, rapidly changing skills and their inability to understand danger. Even with close supervision, it takes only a few seconds for a child to slip out of the house and into the pool, and they can lose consciousness after approximately two minutes under water. Irreversible brain damage occurs after, at most, 4 to 6 minutes and survival, especially survival without impairment, is unusual after immersions of longer than five minutes (3).
Studies have shown that approximately half of all swimming pool drownings and near drownings occur in the child's own home pool. Prior to the event, at least 80% of children are known to be on the premises where the pool is located and gain access to the pool directly from the house or yard (4, 5). Whereas perimeter fencing around the property line is only intended to prevent neighborhood children from gaining access to the pool, isolation fencing means installing a fence that surrounds the pool itself, separating this hazard from the house and yard. It is part of a comprehensive "multiple layers of protection" approach that strives to block or slow a child's access to pools, and to educate caregivers of pool dangers and necessary preventive steps.
Policy and Details
States and communities shall enact and enforce building codes that require four-sided isolation fencing around residential swimming pools. The fencing shall be of appropriate height and with self-closing, self-latching gates.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission developed pool barrier standards that have served as the foundation for many barrier codes. These standards and other pool safety recommendations are available online at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/chdrown.html (6). Some drowning prevention experts have recommended that in order to have the most child resistant fencing, it should be 4.5 to 5 feet high, instead of the minimum4 feet recommended by CPSC (2).
Several states have passed laws that require pool barriers for all new pool construction (7, 8, 9). These laws are important first steps in the effort to prevent childhood drownings. However, these laws do not apply to already constructed pools, and they allow for other types of barriers besides the most effective barrier-isolation fencing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a model bill that pertains to isolation fencing around pools (10).
Laws must require four-sided isolation fencing to be maximally effective. Three-sided fence laws only provide protection for pools in which the drowning did not occur at home (11). Physical barriers between the home and the pool prevent direct access to the pool by young children. Of the various barriers available, four-sided, or isolation, fencing is believed to be the most effective. One study estimated that a four-sided fence can reduce drownings of children under 13 years of age by about 75%, compared with no fencing or a three-sided fence with the pool accessible to the house (12).
Once isolation-fencing ordinances are enacted and implemented, the enforcement of these ordinances is essential. One study found that by implementing a pool inspection program that included non-compliance notices and re-inspection at a later date, compliance with their swimming pool act increased from 10 percent to 89 percent (13). By enacting fencing laws that apply to both new and already existing pools, and providing building code officials with the proper training to enforce these ordinances (14), there exists the possibility that these tragic toddler pool drownings could be greatly reduced.
Consumer Information Officer
US Consumer Product Safety Commission
25422 Trabuco Rd., #105-394
Lake Forest, CA 92360
Sara B.K. Woo
California Child Care Health Program
6505 Alvarado Rd, Suite 108
San Diego, CA 92120
1. Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. 1997, United States Leading Causes of Death. Available online: http://webapp.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcaus.html , June 8, 2000.
2. Wintemute GJ. Childhood drowning and near-drowning in the United States. American Journal of Diseases of Children. 1990; 144; 663-669.
3. Peterson, B. Morbidity of childhood near-drowning. Pediatrics 1977; 59: 364-370, as cited in Wintemute GJ. Childhood drowning and near-drowning in the United States. American Journal of Diseases of Children. 1990; 144; 663-669.
4.Wintemute GJ, et al. Drowning in childhood and adolescence: a population-based study. American Journal of Public Health. 1987; 77: 830-832.
5. Present P. Child Drowning Study: A Report on the Epidemiology of Drownings in Residential Pools to Children Under Age 5. Washington DC: Consumer Product Safety Commission; 1987.
6. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools. Pub. No. 362.
7. California Legislation. California Swimming Pool Safety Act. AB 3305, Chapter 925.
8. Arizona Legislation. Pool enclosures; requirements; exceptions; enforcement, 36-1681. Available online: http://www.azleg.state.az.us/, June 9, 2000.
9. Florida Legislation. Preston de Ibern/McKenzie Merriam Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, SB 86.
10. American Academy of Pediatrics. Swimming Pool Safety Act. Policy Reference Guide Model Bill. Available online: http://www.aap.org/policy/m940.html.
11. Morgenstern H, Bingham T, and Reza A. Effects of Pool-Fencing Ordinances and Other Factors on Childhood Drowning in Los Angeles County, 1990-1995. American Journal of Public Health. 2000; 90 (4): 595-601.
12. Pitt WR, Balanda KP. Childhood drowning and near-drowning in Brisbane: The contribution of domestic pools. Medical Journal of Australia 1991; 42 (675): 661-665.
13. Sayer GP, Steele, P. Swimming Pools Act 1992: Regulation and Compliance in Newcastle, New South Wales. Public Health Bulletin 1996; 7(8): 83-86.
14. California Center for Childhood Injury Prevention. Residential Swimming Pool Barrier Code Train the Trainer Curriculum. May, 1999.
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Last modified: 4-August-2000.