Inflatable Pools: Small Doesn’t Mean Safe
Whether it's a doughnut-shaped kiddie pool or a large portable pool, treat it like the potential hazard it is
On a warm summer day in Paulding, Georgia, 2-year-old Skyla Moore managed to climb out her bedroom window. Within minutes, her mother noticed her absence and went searching for her frantically. She found her daughter floating face down in the neighbor’s inflatable swimming pool. Fortunately, a nearby repairman who heard the mother screaming helped pull the toddler from the pool and whacked her back several times to get her breathing again.
This story of a near-drowning, which appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, isn’t unusual. Every summer, local papers across the country run stories like this one. Sadly, many of them don’t have a happy ending.
During the summer months, a child dies in a portable pool every five days, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Most parents are aware of the dangers of regular swimming pools, but inflatable pools don’t always generate the same sense of risk. They should.
Bigger blow-up pools, bigger hazards
One problem is the increasing size of inflatable pools: As the pools get bigger, more drownings have been reported.
Instead of the plastic tub some of us remember, today’s inflatable pools come in all shapes and sizes. They’re also sold at prices many families can afford, with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 portable pools flying off the shelves each year. Some of these pools hold thousands of gallons of water, so they remain full — and thus hazardous — all summer long. Their pliable sides can sag under the weight of a child, allowing toddlers to tumble in headfirst.
But the price of safety barriers like fences and alarms can be much higher than the cost of inflatable pools, so many people don’t install them.
Portable pool safety 101
Here’s the mantra: If you do break down and buy a kiddie or portable pool, treat it exactly as you would a regular, in-ground swimming pool.
Never leave a child alone in the pool. Constant adult supervision is the best way to prevent drowning. This means your attention should be fully on the children in the pool, with no distractions. In the time it takes to answer a phone call, a child can drown.
Parents often think that if they are within earshot, they will hear their child cry for help if there is a problem. But experts say that is not the case. According to one Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report, “Child drowning is a silent death. There is no splashing to alert anyone that the child is in trouble.”
Related: The Down and Dirty on Hot Tubs
Keep a locked fence around the pool. Even for the little doughnut ring blow-up pools, a fence provides the best protection against kids bound and determined to get in that water. You should also remove ladders when a portable pool is not in use, and make sure small children cannot reach it. One Louisiana family learned this lesson the hard way when their 2-year-old found the ladder they had removed and used it to get into the inflatable pool unsupervised. Minutes later his family found him unresponsive. Fortunately, he was given CPR and made a full recovery.
“We recommend a barrier of a minimum of 4 feet high, which is self-closing and self-latching,” says Ellyn Pollack, Pool Safely campaign leader at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “Remove ladders when not in use, and empty a smaller wading pool when not in use. Even if it’s only a couple of inches deep, it can be a danger to a small child.”
Protect against germs. Water-borne illness is another risk of inflatable pools. Any inflatable pool that isn’t drained after each use should have filters and disinfectant systems, but many smaller pools don’t. So make sure kids are clean and healthy before they enter the pool. Also, remind them not to get the water in their mouths.
More steps to pool safety
Here are a few more tips to make your portable pool safer this summer
- Designate a “water watcher” to maintain constant watch of children in the pool during family gatherings and parties,
- For smaller wading pools, empty the water any time you are not supervising the pool. Afterward, turn it upside down or store it away.
- Install alarms that will alert you when someone leaves the house and enters the pool area.
- Teach children to swim, but don’t assume you can leave them alone because they’ve had lessons.
- Make sure your neighbors and visitors know there is a pool in your yard.
- Learn and practice CPR so you can help in an emergency.
- Keep rescue equipment, a phone, and emergency phone numbers by the pool.
- Don’t leave toys in or around the pool when not in use. This could attract young children.
- If a child is missing, always check the pool first. Seconds count.
Pollack encourages kids and adults to take the Pool Safely Pledge at www.poolsafely.gov/pledge and follow its guidelines.
“Simple steps can save a life,” she says. “You never know which one will, until it does.”