Residential vs. Community Pools: Dangers Lurk at Both

Miley Legal Group

As summertime continues to bring hot weather, it also continues to bring news reports of horrific tragedies.  Hot and muggy weather encourages many families to spend their time escaping into a cool swimming pool to dodge the heat.  The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission reported that there were 364 fatal child drownings in pools and spas in 2012 involving children younger than 15, with 279 involving children younger than five.  Drowning is often referred to as “the silent killer” because once a child slips under the water, it is almost impossible to hear that they are in trouble.  While the drowning rates are different, children succumb to drownings at residential and community pools and they also do so while in the care of one or both parents.

Whether swimming in a community pool or a residential pool, there are tips to follow which will ensure the safety of all swimmers. Children should be taught to float or swim as soon as possible and also taught the dangers which pools present. None of the safety steps discussed herein can replace competent adult supervision when the pool is in use. Tragedies can occur if simple water safety steps are not taken. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive list of such steps. However, some of the dangers which produce the highest frequency of drowning or near drowning incidents can be prevented or eliminated. By following some of these pool safety tips, as well as applying common sense, pools can be safe and pleasurable for children and adults.

Residential Pools

Residential pools create a unique set of circumstances because they are typically not supervised. Local ordinances and codes for safety requirements should always be consulted. Non-slip materials should be utilized on the surfaces of diving boards, ladders, and the pool deck. The pool ladder should be equipped with handrails on both sides which are small enough for a child to grasp. There should also be a ladder at both ends of the pool. Before installing a diving board or slide, you should be sure the depth is sufficient. Slides and diving boards should never be installed in shallow water.  Water depths should be marked conspicuously. A safety float line should be utilized where the bottom slope of the pool deepens.

Many drownings occur because children gain access to a pool when there is no adult supervision. Installing a fence around the pool tall enough to prevent children from accessing the pool is a must.  The fence should be constructed so it is difficult to climb. Lawn furniture, trees, and shrubs should not be close enough to provide easy access over the fence. Self-closing and self-latching gates should also be used with the fence. Pool and gate alarms are also available to sound an alert when children go near the water.

Even when adults are present, drownings can occur if the adults do not remain alert and aware of the dangers. Always watch your children when they are in or near a pool. Pool drains, pipes, and other openings create a hazard for a child to become entrapped. Guards and covers for these entrapment hazards should be utilized and children should be kept away at all times. Having a portable telephone close by when the pool is in use is always recommended. In this way, emergency help can be summoned if necessary. If you own a pool it is also wise to learn to perform CPR on children and adults. These skills should be updated regularly. Courtesy of Spokane Regional Health District

Graphic: Courtesy of Spokane Regional Health District

Community Pools

Parents often feel safer at community pools because they believe their children are being supervised by lifeguards. Parents should not let their guard down when it comes to pool safety even at community pools. Pool management should also work diligently to ensure that a message of safety is properly communicated to its staff and the guests.

The first step to ensuring a safe swimming facility is knowing who is entering the pool.  A system should be in place which identifies residents and indicates the age of children. Pool rules should specify a minimum age that a child can enter the pool without adult supervision. Pool rules should be clear and concise. These rules should not only address age limit restrictions, but also parent responsibilities, child supervision requirements, and pool entry. These rules should be visible to everyone using the pool.

One of the most crucial aspects of pool management is ensuring that an adequate number of lifeguards are on duty at all times and that the lifeguards are well trained. Knowing how many people are present in the pool should ensure having enough lifeguards on duty. These lifeguards should also be posted around the perimeter of the pool so that surveillance can always be conducted of the entire pool. The surveillance should always observe the ”10/20 Rule”. As a lifeguard you should be able to spot anyone in trouble within 10 seconds. You should also be able to reach that individual within 20 seconds. That means that someone should not be in trouble for more than 30 seconds. The more swimmers that are in the pool, the more lifeguards are needed to be able to survey and access everyone in the pool.

Of course, having enough lifeguards is meaningless if they are not properly trained and supervised. Lifeguards should be certified and should continue to receive in service training throughout the summer. Such training could include drills which simulate an actual emergency in real conditions. When lifeguards are on duty they must be “rescue ready” at all times. They must be at their station, identifiable as an on duty lifeguard and always alert. It is imperative that lifeguards remain drug and alcohol free and do not show up for work without the proper amount of rest which will enable them to stay alert.  Lifeguards should also avoid distractions while on duty, such as talking with friends and/or using their cell phones.


Pools can be safe and fun if we all stay alert.  If children are taught to swim at an early age and made aware of the risks associated with a pool, many drownings can be avoided.  Most of the safety steps which can be taken, at a community pool or a residential pool, involve proper supervision.  Even with proper supervision all risks cannot be eliminated.  For instance, even with certified lifeguards present, drowning deaths of children still occur.  However if everyone is alert and responsible, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable amongst us, the harm to children can be kept to a minimum.

If you or your family member has been a victim of a pool drowning, please contact our office for more information.

Source: The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission