Feature Article - April 2007
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Risky Business

Critical Safety Issues for Aquatic Facilities

By Joseph Ryan

When you're away

In many cases the most dangerous time at a pool is when it is closed. You must be prepared to protect even malicious trespassers when you're not watching, experts say.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Just put up a fence, lock the doors and hang up a sign that says "Closed." Right?

Actually, experts suggest that aquatic managers put as much thought into how to keep people out of the pool when it is closed as they may put into protecting swimmers during open hours.

For one, what type of fence should you get?

Wood and brick fences are relatively easy to climb over. Plus, they make it difficult for security personnel or police to see if anyone is inside.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that fences for personal pools be 4 feet high and made of vertical wrought-iron slats no more than 4 inches apart or chain link with holes no larger than 1 3/4 inches. On wrought-iron fences, the bottom vertical bar should be no more than 4 inches from the ground to ensure a child cannot squeeze under, the recommendations say. The commission also recommends safety latches and alarms on doors leading to the pool.

Public pools should have greater security, said Mendioroz of Aquatic Design Group.

While some states mandate a 6- or 8-foot-tall fence, he suggests 10 feet to the design firm's clients. This height ensures that teenagers and even adults can't scale the barrier easily. He said that the bottom horizontal bar should be no more than 2 inches from the ground.

"We always encourage clients to go the extra mile," he said.

Mendioroz's advice is based on his own terrifying experience. His 16-month-old son was once somehow able to get past the backyard wrought-iron self-latching fence and into the pool.

Mendioroz's wife spotted the boy and was able to pull him out of the pool and perform CPR. The doctors gave the child a 50/50 shot at surviving and only a 2 percent chance of living a normal life, but this year he is graduating college, Mendioroz said.

"I've been a real advocate for making sure that whatever you do, those barriers to the pool are really solid and in place," he said.

Many aquatic managers are discouraged from wrought-iron fencing because it can allow debris to blow onto the grounds and into the pool. However, Mendioroz recommends a solution to this problem: Put the fence on top of 2 feet of brick.

Additional measures to reduce risk while the pool is closed include adding security tarps on outdoor and indoor pools and a floating buoy detection system that will alert security personnel when something is making considerable waves in the pool. Such systems can sell for as little as $500.