According to new data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the USA Swimming Foundation, at least 37 children ages 15 and under drowned in pools or spas in June, with seven of the deaths occurring in Texas. This is up more than 130 percent from the same period last year, when three drownings were reported in Texas in June 2020. Texas reported 87 drownings for the year of 2020. 40 of those instances or roughly 46% of those of those occured in a swimming pool or spa.
Texas has the largest number (17) of fatal kid drownings in pools and spas recorded by the media in the first half of the year, followed by Florida (16), Arizona (10), and Minnesota (7).
Because drowning is still the biggest cause of unintentional death among children aged 1-4, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool Safely Campaign encourages everyone to take simple safety precautions and educate themselves on water safety.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has released these guidelines to help caregivers practice water safety and prevent childhood drownings.
- Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your children closely around all bodies of water.
- Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children in the pool or spa. This person should not be reading, using a smart phone or be otherwise distracted.
- Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
- Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults.
- Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
- Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards, and if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers and ask your public pool if their drains are “VGB compliant.”
- Join the 90,000+ others and take the Pool Safely Pledge before spending time in or near the water.
Families may go to poolsafely.gov for more information on how to stay alert about drowning prevention throughout the year.
Drowning Facts – Have We Hit a Crisis Point in America?
Drowning rates increased during the pandemic and experts agree we may have hit a crisis point.
The issue of drowning prevention and mitigating pool-related fatalities go hand-in-hand. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) annual drowning report, fatal child drownings and nonfatal drowning injuries in children under the age of 15 remain high and nonfatal drownings spiked by 17% in 2021.
The Facts About Drowning-Related Deaths
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4,000 people die in the United States yearly from drowning. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children after birth defects. An average of three children die each day from drowning, and it is the second leading cause of accidental deaths in children aged 1-14, right behind motor vehicle-related deaths.
Swimming Pool-Related Drowning Facts
An average of 379 children under age 15 die in reported drownings linked to pools or spas each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the statistic has been climbing in the United States.
During 2018–2019, unintentional drowning deaths totaled 73 for those under age 1 year, 821 for ages 1–4, 390 for ages 5–13, and 270 for ages 14–17, (CDC). Most drownings in residential swimming pools happen among children ages 1–4. 74% of fatal pool accidents occurred at residential locations.
Texas leads the nation in childhood drownings. 67% of swimming pool drowning deaths involved children younger than 3 years old. In swimming pools, black children ages 10-14 years drown at rates 7.6 times higher than white children. Black children are more likely to drown in public pools, and white children are more likely to drown in residential pools according to the CDC.
U.S. Falling Behind Developed Nations When It Comes To Water Safety
In 2015, a study conducted by the National Safety Council showed most states were significantly behind in their grading scale.
The NSC study made specific recommendations on what states needed to do. They provided recommendations to make the grade:
- States update public pools and water facility regulations to conform with Model Aquatic Health Code.
- High school students be required to know CPR in order to graduate.
- Regulations require barriers be installed around all residential swimming pools.
States Pressed To Adopt Higher Water Safety Measures
The media in 2015 called on states to reduce the number of drowning fatalities. To date, most of the country still has not adopted the recommended guidelines set forth by the NSC. Experts like Dr. Katchmarchi, Executor Director of the NDPA (National Drowning Prevention Alliance), believe we’ve hit a crisis point. “Starting in 2020 we saw a very significant increase. The scary part is when we just look at the numbers, it’s hard to say if that’s a new trend we’re seeing because of the pandemic.”
Katchmarchi is sounding the alarm because a spike in drownings may have a direct provable correlation with current events. “In 2020 we saw drowning rates increase significantly for the first time in a very long time,” said Katchmarchi, “Some of the initial data we’re getting for 2021, has me even more scared.”
Public health experts say water safety should be a priority since nearly all drowning deaths are preventable. “These deaths do not have to occur. It really is something we should be ashamed of and be energized to address,” said Shannon Frattaroli, Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.
“Most state and local health departments are chronically underfunded for accident prevention in general and many have no expertise in drowning prevention,” said Richard Hamburg, Executive Director of Safe States Alliance.
As it pertains to drowning prevention, laws are slowly being passed to help establish better standards. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGBA) is law of the land in the United States. This was a major achievement for federal intervention.
Organizations Appeal To Congress For Action
It’s a fact that drowning remains a leading killer in children and young adults. In most cases, states lack the laws and regulations that experts in the field of drowning prevention say are necessary. Experts say more effort from states is required to effectively reduce the rate of fatalities. Existing laws on the books tend to be inconsistent even within neighboring jurisdictions.
More than two hundred national and local groups and state agencies, including the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the California Highway Patrol, wrote to Congress in March. They called the increase in drownings a “silent crisis” that needed government leadership and funding.
Additional research on drowning prevention measures is needed in order to make a serious impact according to Dr. Katchmarchi, “There’s not a lot that is evidence-based. We’ve been saying to use barriers and alarms. We have some data to support that we know barriers are effective at reducing drowning. Some studies have suggested that it’s up to a 50% decrease with young children but we need better data. When it comes to alarms, we have pretty much no data to support how effective alarms are. We think they are but so far as being able to say adding an alarm will decrease the potential of drowning by X%, we simply don’t have that data.”
Katchmarchi says more focus is needed on developing the National Water Safety Action Plan. “This is designed to impact the community, county, state, and federal level when it comes to water safety. This was in response to a call from the World Health Organization for nations to have a national plan addressing drowning, ” said Katchmarchi.
Drowning Prevention & Water Safety
Drowning prevention studies are essential to our water safety goals in this country. A number of unquantified factors in recent years may have contributed to an increase in drowning fatalities. Drowning prevention is clearly a moving target where the numbers equate to American lives, not just statistics.
A Moving Target That Equates To Human Lives
What is perhaps most unsettling about all of this data is that change doesn’t appear to be happening quickly enough. It’s disconcerting that given the recent rise in drowning deaths, public pools continue to close at an alarming rate. It’s alarming that a lack of funding for research, lifeguards, and public pools may be erasing the gains our nation has made in previous decades. That we’re struggling to keep up with other developed nations should be a national embarrassment according to water safety experts.
“I was part of the U.S. delegation in 2017 that attended the world conference on drowning prevention, what was quite embarrassing was that the United States was the only developed nation that did not have a water safety action plan,” explained Dr. Katchmarchi, “We hadn’t even started developing it at that point. When you look at other developed nations, we’re compared to Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and Canada but the biggest difference is their federal governments take a much more active role in water safety.”
Listen to our entire conversation with Dr. Katchmarchi | Executive Director – NDPA
Are You Liable If Someone Drowns In Your Pool?
While never a pleasant scenario to imagine, if you own a swimming pool the question inevitably will come up at some point; what happens if someone drowns in the pool? Knowing what your liability is as a homeowner and the facts regarding this issue may answer several important questions. Namely, are you financially covered in the event of an accidental death?
Public & Private Pool Liability
In public pools and privately run pools, the pool owner or operator is liable for the safety of swimmers. Examples of negligent behavior can include failing to ensure proper operation of equipment and following basic safety guidelines. Owners and operators may also be liable for failing to properly staff and train lifeguards.
Slip & Fall Injuries
Injuries such as slip and falls that occur on premises may also constitute negligence on the part of the pool owner if a court determines they were at fault and failed to maintain the facilities. Even to the extent of providing adequate signage that directs people not to run or engage in horseplay around the pool area.
Residential pool owners may also be liable in the event of an injury or unforeseen tragedy such as an accidental drowning. A lawyer would argue that the responsibility to address any potential safety hazards in and around the pool lies with the homeowner.
The National Safety Council (NSC) has set guidelines for mitigating the risk of drowning. Some of those recommended safety measures include:
- Having an adult supervising the pool area at all times when young children or inexperienced swimmers are present.
- Keeping children and other vulnerable people out of areas of the pool where suction devices are present.
- Keeping emergency supplies such as a first-aid kits on hand and easily accessible.
- Hiring a designated lifeguard for any event hosting a large number of people in the pool.
- Assuring that at least one CPR-trained person is present when necessary.
- Preventing persons who have consumed alcohol from swimming.
- Preventing swimmers from diving and dangerously engaging in horseplay with one another.
Many states also have laws regarding fences, gates, and barriers that must be in place around the pool area. Failure to install this required equipment in accordance with the state mandate could constitute negligence on the part of the homeowner and leave them liable for damages.
Who Else May Be Liable For Damages?
While the laws of each state differ, trade professionals such as pool service technicians and even pool builders may be liable in the event of an injury or accidental death. In some instances, pool equipment suppliers and manufacturers may even be held liable for damages.
Examples of Potential Liability
One scenario would be if there was a recall on an installed piece of equipment sold after the recall date, or if electrical was improperly bonded in the swimming pool by the contractor. The potential for liability increases for those responsible for maintaining and sanitizing the swimming pools under their management.
What Pool Owners Need To Do To Protect Themselves
If you’re building a swimming pool, liability insurance is a must, according to insurance experts. While most homeowners carry a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage, some policies don’t cover swimming pools. An accident could potentially leave you with liability for damages that exceed your minimum coverage.
Additional Liability Coverage
Many homeowners opt to purchase additional liability coverage to protect themselves in the unlikely event a lawsuit arises. While some umbrella liability coverage plans extend to the pool, some don’t. In certain cases homeowners may opt to purchase an additional $1 million in coverage which may cover slip & falls, injuries, and even drowning.
This type of safety net provides the peace of mind that in the event of an accident there is adequate insurance coverage for any potential lawsuits which may arise.
Do Homeowners Need To Inform Their Insurance Company They’re Building a Pool?
The short answer is “yes”. Many homeowners may find that it’s advisable to give their insurance agent a call before building a pool. Finding out how much coverage you have, what your homeowners policy covers, and where any potential gaps may be is always a smart idea before you embark upon a pool construction project.
Swimming pools in general are considered detached structures much like a shed. As such, typically they are not covered under a general homeowners policy unless it’s been specifically added.
Building a Swimming Pool Could Raise Your Insurance
One unforeseen cost of building a pool regards insurance. Some consumers may find that their current homeowners policy does not cover a swimming pool. Experts would say that it’s prudent to ask whether building a pool will raise the monthly premium price.
Be Prepared To Pay More For a Diving Board
Insurance professionals advise that building a swimming pool which incorporates a feature such as a jump rock or diving board can also raise rates or potentially prohibit your insurer from extending liability coverage on the pool entirely.
Rental Property Owners
It’s advised that homeowners who rent out their property or swimming pool get additional liability coverage. In most instances, a standard homeowners policy does not cover rental situations. Popular rental platforms like VRBO, Airbnb and Swimply offer up to an additional $1 million in coverage, but purchasing your own independent additional coverage may ultimately be the best protection for those who are renting out their backyard.
What Happens If Someone Drowns And You Get Sued?
All new pools in California must meet the requirements of the Swimming Pool Safety Act, which are outlined in sections 115920-115929 of the California Health and Safety Code. Among other things, the Act requires access gates in residential swimming pool enclosures to be at least 60 inches long, self-closing, and have a self-latching device no lower than 60 inches above the ground.
One Famous Pool Liability Case
Former Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and his wife, actress Pamela Anderson, were sued for $10 million in 2001 after a four-year-old child drowned in their swimming pool during a birthday party. The toddler had been left unaccompanied “for a minute,” according to Lee. Although a jury finally found that Lee and Anderson were not negligent, the couple was still subjected to much agony as well as significant legal expenditures.
Best Advice To Prevent Liability:
- Allow guests to enter the pool only if they are supervised by a responsible adult.
- Do not leave floats and toys in the pool that may attract small children.
- When adult guests come to visit, make sure they’re responsible for supervising their children.
- Do not let intoxicated adult guests or their children swim in the pool.
- Consider leaving a diving board out of your pool plan.
- Maintain a homeowner’s insurance policy with at least $1,000,000 in liability coverage for swimming pool injuries.
- Surround the pool with the appropriate size pool fence.
- Install gates that are self-latching and are at least 60 inches high.
- When not in use, the pool should ideally be securely covered.
- Make certain that everyone in the house knows how to swim.
- Pool owners should be familiar with basic first aid and life-saving skills.
- Keep enough pool safety equipment (not only flotation devices) around the pool.
- Consider adding a pool alarm to notify you when the water’s surface is interrupted.
PHTA Encourages Support of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Reauthorization Act
(Alexandria, Va.) – PHTA announces the support of the VGB Pool & Spa Safety Reauthorization Act of 2022, which was introduced in the US. Senate and House of Representatives this week. S. 4296 and H.R. 7787 seek to reauthorize and update 2008 legislation requiring every public pool in the US to install safe drain covers that prevent suction entrapment. The act allocates funding for grants that can be used for swim lessons, enforcing pool and spa safety laws, as well as educating communities about drowning and entrapment dangers. The legislation also expands program eligibility to non-profit organizations and Indian Tribes. If passed, the law would authorize $5 million per year from 2022 to 2027 for use in locations that have enacted a qualifying minimum swimming pool and spa safety laws such as the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code and ANSI/APSP/ICC-17 American National Standard for Suction Outlet Fitting Assemblies.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), John Carter (TX-31), Colin Allred (TX-32), and Michael Burgess (TX-26) and Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Roy Blunt (MO) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety (VGB) Reauthorization Act (H.R.7877 / S.4296) to help decrease drownings in pools and spas.
“PHTA has always been a vocal leader in advocating for safe aquatic environments—they are absolutely critical to industry.” said Sabeena Hickman, PHTA president and CEO. “Not only does this legislation reiterate the requirement for safe and compliant drain covers, it incentivizes state, local, and Tribal jurisdictions to implement and enforce swimming pool and spa safety standards which has been proven to save lives.”
PHTA encourages members and industry advocates to support the reauthorization through social media using #PassVGB and #CurbDrownings and by contacting their representative with your support of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Reauthorization Act.
PHTA-16 and VGBA
The Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) announced recently that it is currently developing the PHTA-16, with the PHTA-16 Standard Writing Committee (SWC) to revise the ANSI/APSP/ICC-16 2017 American National Standard for Suction Outlet Fitting Assemblies (SOFA) for Use in Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs, the Drain Cover Standard referenced in the VGBA. The standard was designated the current U.S. Consumer Product Safety Standard last year. Proposed revisions will be submitted to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). After ANSI approval, the revised standard will be submitted to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
PHTA joins VGBA reauthorization supporters to help prevent drownings and near-drownings in pools and spas by increasing the layers of protection, extending grant program eligibility, and providing funds for education about drowning and entrapment dangers, as well as ensuring that the infrastructure and resources reflect the seriousness of this public health issue.
For more information, contact PHTA Vice President, Government Relations, Standards & Codes, Justin Wiley, [email protected].
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