Pool safety 101

Products, maintenance, supervision help guard against problems

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published June 4, 2014

 Katie Bartlebaugh, of Wind Surf & Sail in Clinton Township, demonstrates how an inground pool alarm works.

Katie Bartlebaugh, of Wind Surf & Sail in Clinton Township, demonstrates how an inground pool alarm works.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

METRO DETROIT — More than 200 children ages 1-14 drowned in a swimming pool or spa last year, and three out of four were under the age of 5, according to NSF International, a global independent organization that promotes public health and safety.

To limit and prevent injuries in one’s pool or spa, NSF International — which tests products like drain covers as part of its pool safety program — and experts suggest that homeowners remain diligent with pool maintenance.


The state requires pool owners to have a fence around a pool; however, there are additional products that can be used to limit the number of pool or spa-related injuries.

A partially removed pool or spa cover can return to its original position within 10-20 seconds, putting swimmers at risk for getting caught, said Cheryl Luptowski, NSF International’s home safety expert. Before swimming, remove covers completely from the pool vicinity.

Safety covers can be custom-made for residential pools and vary in material — micro mesh, rugged mesh and solid.

“You can literally park a car on there,” Kathy McLeod, manager for Wind Surf & Sail in Clinton Township, said regarding the strength of safety covers. “A safety cover is based on the strength of the material you’re using. I relate it to the woman’s stomach during pregnancy: it’s going to pop back up but not all the way.”

Automatic covers are separate from safety covers in that auto covers can be used for closing pools, but they can’t hold any weight, McLeod added.

McLeod said that many cities and townships require alarms on any door that has direct access to a swimming pool’s vicinity and that pool owners should check with their cities or townships. Pool gates should have a safety latch.

Mounted pool alarms, which sense turbulence in the water and can be set based on poundage, can be purchased to latch onto the side of a pool, McLeod said. However, she added, one must compare the alarm to the type of sanitation being used and review what is recommended. Salt, for instance, is corrosive to batteries with copper and can damage the alarm, she said.

“The pool alarms, per se, for the water, there’s a variation of what’s available. (One) needs to make sure that they are NSF International certified or ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International standards,” McLeod said.

Drain covers that meet current Pool & Spa Safety Act requirements should be installed. Luptowski said that from 2008-2012, 39 people were trapped in pool/spa drains, including two children who died. Children should never be allowed to play around the drain, she added.

“Make sure you have the most current version (of a drain cover). It’s not worth a child, and even an adult can become trapped,” Luptowski said.

NSF International provides a list of all tested products at www.nsf.org/consumer-resources.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began collecting data on the number of outbreaks of recreational water illnesses in 1978, and since then, the number of illnesses have increased significantly, according to the Model Aquatic Health Code, which is produced by the CDC.

Recreational water illnesses occur by swallowing, breathing in mists of, or having contact with contaminated recreational water. Chemicals in the water can cause indoor air quality problems associated with recreational water illnesses. The CDC states that the most commonly reported recreational water illness is diarrheal illness, which can be caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli 0157:H7; however, recreational water illnesses include a wide variety of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological and wound infections.

According to the CDC, pool chemical-associated injuries account for more than 4,000 emergency room visits each year.

“The key thing (is) to follow instructions,” Luptowski said. “Don’t overuse the chemicals. Too much of a good thing is never a good thing.”

Proper storage is essential to limit the “worst case scenario,” in which a child swallows chemicals, Luptowski said. Spilling chemicals onto one’s skin is a common reason people end up in the emergency room for chemical-related injuries, she added.

NSF International suggests that when using pool chemicals, replace chemicals past their expiration dates, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and store chemicals out of reach of children.

“Most of your chemicals are no different than making Thanksgiving dinner. You can always overdo it,” McLeod said.

Wind Surf & Sail offers free water analysis to keep pool owners “out of trouble” when balancing chemicals, McLeod said. The pH balance of a human eye is relatively neutral — 7.0 -7.3 — but if a pool has a chemical imbalance, it can damage the eye, McLeod explained.

“It’s a simple solution, but unfortunately … anything holding water is going to be affected by elements, like rain. … You have to have some type of routine,” McLeod said, referring to maintaining a chemically balanced pool.

Monitoring chemicals in a spa is more crucial than in a pool, McLeod said. Five people in a spa is equivalent to 100 people in a pool, and because temperatures are higher, bacteria will breed faster.

When dealing with inflatable and plastic pools, or kiddie pools, the CDC and Luptowski  recommend draining or emptying the pools after each use, especially because bacteria grows faster in kiddie pools. Medium and larger-sized inflatable pools — larger than 3-5 feet in diameter — that cannot be drained daily should have a filter and disinfection system that meets the same codes and requirements as a full-sized swimming pool. Once a kiddie pool is drained, clean and allow it to dry. After the pool is completely dry, let it sit in the sun for at least four hours.

McLeod said that there are chemicals specifically designed for smaller pools, and with any type of water reservoir, owners must keep some type of sanitation plan.


Though handling chemicals properly and maintaining pool products decreases the number of injuries, there is no substitute for adult supervision when a child swims.

A child can drown in as little as an inch of water, according to Jennifer Varajon, a lifeguard of 30 years and assistant manager for West Bloomfield Township’s Family Aquatic Center.

Water wings and pool noodles are good for playing but are not meant to be safety devices. Varajon recommended using a Coast Guard-certified personal flotation device that is properly fitted, especially if adults are not confident in the water. Children’s bathing suits with a built-in flotation device are not certified by the Coast Guard but do allow children to move their arms, kick their feet and stay above the water, Varajon said.

Anyone who has or is working with children should take a basic CPR course, and pool owners should establish and enforce rules for pool and spa use for any child using the pool.

If one is having a home party, Varajon suggested contacting the Red Cross and hiring a lifeguard for the party. Lifeguards take a 30-hour course during which they learn basic water rescue, deep- and shallow-water backboarding, and CPR and first aid for infants, children and adults. Lifeguards must renew their certification every two years.

Varajon said she is not a big fan of using products that take away adult responsibility.

“You start putting those things on and parents do tend to think they don’t have to pay as much attention, and they still do,” she said.