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Play it Safe: Expert advice to help prevent drownings

Never leave children unsupervised in or near a backyard pool or hot tub. Drowning can occur very quickly and without warning.

While some jurisdictions require only three-sided fencing around the yard (the house acts as the fourth side), groups like the Lifesaving Society recommend backyard pool owners install a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate on the fourth side. In fact, most injury prevention professionals endorse this as the most effective method of restricting access to the pool area.

Here are other tips to help prevent tragedy from touching your life:

  • Never leave a child alone in, on, or near water, whether it is a backyard pool, a wading pool, a bathtub, or a lake.
  • Toddlers and children who are non-swimmers should wear a lifejacket in the pool area.
  • Keep a close eye on patio doors. Ensure doors are locked and install an alarm to be absolutely sure.
  • Make certain all gates have a self-closing latch and that gates are locked to keep children out of the pool area when it is not in use.
  • Keep safety equipment around the pool for easy access. These can include a reaching pole, ring buoy, or other floating objects that can be thrown to someone in need. Also, keep a cordless phone nearby for emergencies.
  • Remove toys from the swimming pool when not in use. Inflatable toys can flip over and trap a child underwater. They can also be extremely tempting
    to a child when left floating.
  • Never swim alone—this applies to both adults and children. Swimming with someone will enable them to get help or provide assistance when someone is having difficulty in the water.

It is important pool owners take on the responsibility of lifeguard in their own backyard and ensure their children become strong and accomplished swimmers with first aid training. Your children’s water safety education is incomplete until they have earned lifesaving and lifeguarding awards. Enroll them in water safety courses and ensure family members learn to administer basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The Lifesaving Society has developed a Backyard Swimming Pool Safety Inspection Checklist (see opposite page). This is a great resource to enable backyard pool owners to evaluate their own pool for safety fitness. This evaluation should be done annually.

Barbara Byers is public education director for the Lifesaving Society, a full-service provider of programs, products, and services designed to prevent drowning. For more information, visit

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