Guide to Swimming and Swimming Pool Safety

People of different ages drown in different locations. For example, most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools. The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers, and oceans, increases with age. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older (57% and 57%, respectively) occurred in natural water settings. More than half of drownings among infants (under age 1) occur in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets. Portable pools make up 11% of all pool drownings for children under age 5.

U.S. Statistics:

  • 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning (CDC)
  • Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4 (CDC)
  • 76% of pool deaths involve children younger than age 5 (CPSC)
  • Children’s drowning deaths are highest from May- August (CPSC)
  • 75% of pool deaths occur at private residences, most often in in-ground pools (CPSC)
  • Approximately 5,000 children are treated in hospitals for pool-related accidents per year often resulting in permanent neurological disability (CPSC)

Risk Factors:

  • Lack of swimming ability
  • Lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access
  • Lack of close supervision while swimming
  • Location
  • Failure to wear life jackets
  • Alcohol use
  • Murky or dark water
  • Source: CDC

Federal Legislation:

  • Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act) became effective in December 2008- aims to enhance the safety of public and private pools and spas, reduce drownings/ entrapments, and educate the public on the importance of constant supervision of children in and around water
    • Mandates:
      • All pool drain covers must meet ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 standard
      • Pools and spas operating off of a single main drain (other than an unblockable drain) must add one or more of the following safety options: a safety vacuum release system, a suction-limiting vent system, a gravity drainage system, an automatic pump shut-off system, a disabled drain, any other system determined by the Commission to be equally effective as, or better than, the others listed above
    • Recommendations:
      • Use multiple safety steps such as fencing around pools, constant supervision of children, anti-entrapment drain covers, and other safety devices on all public pools and spas
    • P&SS Act also strengthened the CPSC’s civil and criminal authority, giving the agency the ability to shut down pools or spas that are not in compliance with the law

Iowa Legislation:

  • 641 IAC Chapter 15- minimum standards established by the Iowa Department of Public Health Swimming Pools and Spas Program that regulate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of these facilities in order to protect the public from injury, minimize the potential for disease transmission, and provide a safe and healthy aquatic recreational environment
    • Applies to all public swimming pools, spas, wading pools, water slides, wave pools, leisure rivers, and spray pads owned or operated by local or state government, commercial interests, or private entities including, but not limited to, public or private schools, corporations, hotels, motels, camps, apartments, condominiums, health clubs, and country clubs
    • Lengthy 61-page document containing very specific requirements regarding pH levels, water markers, safety instruments, construction, etc.
  • Also important to check local building codes for specific guidance regarding residential pools/spas/hot tubs

Municipal Laws:

  • Some Iowa cities have several ordinances requiring specific standards to be met by pool owners. In Des Moines, for example, there are city requirements. If the requirements are not met by a pool owner and a drowning or other accident occurs, the owner may be liable for negligence per se, or negligence involving a violation of specific laws.
  • There are different legal and standard care guidelines for public and private swimming pools. Governmental owned or operated swimming pools may enjoy a certain type of immunity from the wrongful conduct; however, a recent Iowa Supreme Court case ruled that if a city violated any laws or administrative rules that constitute criminal offenses under the Iowa Code, then the governmental entity is not entitled to immunity under Iowa Code Section 670.4(12).

Safety Recommendations:

  • Stay within arm’s reach at all times in and around the pool when children are near- most children are only missing for minutes before they drown (CPSC)
  • Assign an adult water watcher (CPSC)
  • Fence pools on all 4 sides using a 4 ft or taller fence and self-closing/latching gates [highly effective!] (CPSC)
  • Learn how to swim and educate children who spend time near water (CPSC)
  • Learn CPR (CPSC)
  • Install pool and gate alarms (CPSC)
  • Use the buddy system (CDC)
  • Air-filled and foam toys are NOT safety devices- includes water wings, noodles, and inner-tubes (CDC)
  • Avoid alcohol while swimming or supervising (CDC)
  • Do not let swimmers hold their breath for long periods of time- can cause them to pass out and drown aka “shallow water blackout” (CDC)
  • Clear the pool and deck of toys when not in use to help eliminate children’s desire to go out and play unsupervised (CDC)
  • The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools/spas/hot tubs is for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers to prevent unintentional child access- needs to prevent children from getting over, under, or through it (CPSC). A
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) booklet offers guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young children. This handbook is designed for use by owners, purchasers, and builders of residential pools, spas, and hot tubs.
    • Fences- 5 ft or higher are preferable and need to be self-latching
    • Gate openings should open away from the pool
    • Door alarms if the home serves as one side of the barrier around the pool
    • Pool covers with control devices stored away from children
    • Removable ladders/stairs for above ground pools
    • Fence, cover, or empty portable pools after use
    • No pet or doggy doors if the door leads directly to pool or backyard with a pool
  • Have life equipment such as life rings, floats, or a reaching pole available and easily accessible (CPSC)

Pool Safety Tips:

  1. Recognize the need for alert supervision by competent swimmers.
  2. Eliminate or minimize alcohol use.
  3. Constantly watch each child. Children can go underwater very quickly. They can drown in less time than it takes to answer a phone call. Seventy-seven percent of drowned children were reported out of sight for less than five minutes, according to the CPSC. Additionally, children should be supervised by capable swimmers. A mother in Texas recently lost three children because she could not save them from drowning at an apartment complex pool. (See
  4. The number of people supervising must be proportionate to the number of people swimming. A four-year-old in San Diego died after a pool party at a yacht club (, where only one lifeguard was on duty for a kindergarten class.
  5. Watch for dry drowning symptoms. Hours after a near-drowning incident, the victim may later succumb to “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning.” What’s happening in these situations is not an actual drowning, but a form of pneumonia – the inhaled pool water irritates the lungs, which then produce dangerous clogging fluid. Near drowning victims who are having difficulty breathing, coughing, or vomiting need to go to the ER immediately. The symptoms may appear shortly after the near-drowning incident, as in the case of a ten-year-old boy who died of dry drowning ( recently; or up to 48 hours afterward, according to some medical experts (
  6. Keep children away from pool drains, which can create strong suction forces.
  7. Ensure all pool equipment is properly maintained, and that all surrounding areas are free of hazards or obstacles that may cause pool users to slip or trip causing injuries to the back or limbs, head concussions, and subsequent drownings.
  8. Seconds count – learn CPR. CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to save lives and improve outcomes in drowning victims. The more quickly CPR is started, the better the chance of improved outcomes.
  9. Water clarity is a key safety feature of any swimming pool. Swimmers must be visible no matter what part of the pool they are in or at what depths they may be at. There are state regulations in Iowa that require lighting sufficient “so that all portions of the swimming pool, including the bottom and main drain, may be clearly seen.” Iowa Admin. Code R.641-15.4(4)(m)(2)(1) 2009. The rules also provide
    1. “A swimming pool that is less than 8 feet deep shall be closed if the grate openings on the main drain are not clearly visible from the deck. A swimming pool that is 8 feet deep or deeper shall be closed if the main drain is not clearly visible from the deck.”
  10. All doors that allow access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm that sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. Alarms should meet the requirements of UL 2017 General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems, Section 77, with the following features:
  • Sound lasting for 30 seconds or more within 7 seconds after the door is opened.
  • The alarm should be loud: at least 85 dBA (decibels) when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism.
  • The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell, and smoke alarm.
  • The alarm should have an automatic reset feature to temporarily deactivate the alarm for up to 15 seconds to allow adults to pass through house doors without setting off the alarm. The deactivation switch could be a touchpad (keypad) or a manual switch and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold and out of the reach of children.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a public or private swimming pool incident, you can contact an experienced trial lawyer at LaMarca Law Group, P.C., to let you know your rights and, if necessary, to conduct an appropriate investigation and timely file the appropriate type of claim required under the circumstances.

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