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POOL SAFETY : Experts advise not to wait until near-tragedy to safeguard your pool. For a few thousand dollars, you can build a series of defenses that will give you peace of mind even when the children are out of sight.

June 07, 1990|EVE BELSON | Eve Belson is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Six-month-old Morgan Pace of Westminster is still too young to crawl, but her parents are taking no chances. Janet and David Pace have installed a wrought-iron safety fence around their swimming pool to make sure Morgan does not become another Orange County drowning statistic.

When it comes to child-proofing the family pool, the Paces are still the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, fences, pool covers and other safety devices are installed after a near-tragedy has occurred, not before.

Apart from the added expense, pool owners find most safety precautions inconvenient and downright unaesthetic. Janet Pace has no patience with such notions: "My baby's life is far more important than whether a fence looks nice or not."

Drowning, the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, is 100% preventable, yet drownings in Orange County are climbing. Although the pool season has just begun, six people, five of them children, have already lost their lives in pool and spa accidents around the county. Total drowning deaths, including those in bathtubs, was nine last year.

Jim Landis, founder of the Children's Pool Safety Assn., says: "Public awareness is well up, but people still aren't taking the next step--making their pools child-safe--because they don't think it's going to happen to them.

"Yet the fact remains that having small children in the same house as a swimming pool is like playing Russian roulette. A child is 14 times more likely to die in a pool accident than in a car accident."

Under current law, all pool owners are required to install perimeter fencing around their property but not necessarily around their pools. Downing prevention advocates point out that fencing around the home safeguards only the neighbors' kids, while most drowning victims are children who have died in their own family pool.

Safety experts are lobbying to change the law to require that the pools be enclosed on all sides. They stress, however, that a fence is only the first step in making a pool safe for children.

"We have heard of children putting a tricycle on top of a toy box and then a beach ball on top of the tricycle and climbing over the fence," says Mary Anne Sager, chairwoman of Save Our Kids, the Orange County Trauma Society's drowning prevention group.

The key to preventing a pool tragedy, according to Sager, is understanding that, given enough time, any bright child is going to figure out a way to bypass a barrier.

"You therefore have to put up several layers of protection to buy time for yourself before you realize your child is out of sight," she says.


To be truly safe for children, a fence has to enclose the pool entirely to prevent access from back doors, side gates and open garages. Chain-link fencing is inappropriate because it can be easily climbed.

Wrought iron is the most popular choice for safety-fencing. Slats should be vertical and unadorned--ornate scrollwork provides a wonderful foothold for young climbers. The Trauma Society specifies that such fences be at least five feet high and that slats be no more than four inches apart, including where the fence meets the wall.

Fences should enclose the pool and nothing more to minimize the amount of non-pool traffic within the fenced area. The more often adults have to enter the area to get garden tools or to use the barbecue, the higher the chances that the gate will be accidentally left open. A fence is only a fence if the gate is closed.

A gate should always open outward so a child pushing against it will close it. It should be self-closing and self-latching. The latching mechanism should be at the top of the gate, where children will not be able to reach it.

A pool-code wrought-iron fence, which can be installed in less than a day, averages about $12 per foot, with gates starting at about $75.

A popular alternative to the wrought-iron fence is the nylon-mesh fence.

Because the mesh is attached to aluminum poles that slide into the ground at three-foot intervals around the pool, the entire fence can be removed in five to 10 minutes. This makes it the ideal fence for grandparents or for pool owners who entertain while the children are out of the house. It can also be removed once the children are grown, then used on those occasions when guests bring small children.

The fence is installed 24 inches from the edge of the pool to maximize yard space and to minimize non-pool traffic in the pool area. Tough polymer-coated mesh is weather-resistant, practically impervious to tears, too fine to allow little toes a hold for climbing and soft enough not to injure an unsteady toddler who may fall against it. And because toys or pets cannot pass through or under the mesh, children are not tempted to try to get to the other side to retrieve them.

These fences can be installed in one day for $1,000 to $2,000.

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