May 18 , 2019
By Gregory Rule
One of the biggest misconceptions about pool safety is that it’s only something that we need to pay attention to during the summer. However, in South Africa, our winter days are generally warm and sunny and this creates a risk of drowning among our children during this time.
Playing outdoors in the cooler months, inquisitive children can easily be drawn to bodies of water such as swimming pools, spas or koi ponds. For this reason, it’s crucial that, as parents, we never take our eye off the ball when it comes to pool safety – no matter the time of the year. Remember, drowning is not seasonal – it can happen at any time.
While the looming cold weather in Gauteng and other parts of South Africa has probably got you filling up gas bottles for the heater or buying a new pair of warm slippers, here are some things you can do to ensure your pool and surrounding areas are safe for your children.
Cover the swimming pool. And the pond. And the water feature
Without question, the first thing to do is to install a swimming pool safety net and safety nets for any other bodies of water such as ponds and water features.
The pool safety net is the first layer of protection when it comes to drowning prevention because it removes water from the situation. Mario Vittone, an expert on drowning and sea-related survival and safety, describes the pool safety net as the “layer zero”.
There are many pool safety gadgets on the market – infrared motion sensors, underwater motion alarms, surface motion alarms, and personal immersion detectors – to name but a few. However, in an age of electronic wizardry and gadgetry, the pool safety net remains the most effective form of protection for your children.
The 10cm mesh squares that make up a custom fitted pool safety net is the size designed to be too small for a toddler’s head to fit through, yet too big for a toddler to be able to crawl on.
“Fences can be climbed – and the water is there. Locks work, but if you forget to latch it, or an older child opens the door, the water is there. Alarms make noise but do not prevent water entry in any way,” says Vittone.
A properly installed pool safety net makes entering the water impossible. The pool safety net is securely anchored and under tension. This ensures the child remains above the water level and is unable to crawl through the perimeter of the net.
The 3.5mm durable polyethylene braided net is preshrunk (which means the net will not shrink) and autoclaved (which means that knots are heat-sealed to prevent them from slipping).
Remember, it is dangerous to leave a solid PVC winter pool cover on your pool without a safety net on top. Although pool covers are secured to the pool paving, they are not under tension so children can unhook them and enter the water. And because the covers are solid and opaque, a child cannot be seen if they have fallen into the water.
Educate, educate, educate!
As a swimming pool owner, it is your duty to ensure that your children are properly educated about the dangers that a swimming pool presents. And it’s more than just teaching them how to swim.
Children also need to be taught that the pool and the areas around it can be dangerous if not treated with respect. Children tend to mimic the behaviour of adults, so important that parents set the example by not clowning around when swimming.
The importance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can also not be emphasised enough. In South Africa, the large majority of swimming pools – be they public or private – are not supervised by qualified lifeguards.
Therefore, the responsibility falls on individuals such as parents, older teenage siblings and even childminders and domestic workers to learn CPR and to ensure that water and pool safety guidelines are adhered to.
Children should also be taught to call for help when they see another child in trouble in the water. By trying to help the victim in the water they put themselves at risk of drowning too.
A good idea is to put up a sign that sets out the dos and don’ts of what kinds of behaviour are acceptable around the pool at home will let your family members know that you value their pool safety.
Our pool safety rules sign would include the following:
- Keep the pool safety net in place when the pool is not in use
- No swimming without an adult present
- No running around the pool
- Keep the pool gate closed at all times
- No diving in shallow water
For safety’s sake, clean your pool and pack your stuff away
Just because you aren’t spending time swimming, it doesn’t mean you should let your pool maintenance regime slip during the winter. Besides costing you more money to fix it when the summer rolls around again, it also has safety implications.
From a pool safety point of view, it’s important to maintain the water levels in your pool. This allows for children to grab the edge of the pool if they have fallen in.
Toys, inflatable accessories and pool cleaning equipment such as nets, brushes and poles must be packed away.
They create unnecessary clutter around the pool area, which can result in dangerous situations if people trip over them.
Also, children may be tempted to retrieve items from the pool and fall in, increasing the risk of drowning.
The facts don’t lie. The majority of child drownings occur when children get into the pool on their own.
Moreover, in most cases, those children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at home at the time.
So, before you head out to top up your gas bottle or buy those warm slippers this winter, make sure that you have taken care of your pool safety requirements at home. It’s worth repeating: drowning is not seasonal – it can happen at any time.
- Gregory Rule is a member of the Nets for Africa marketing team