Residential pool owners are responsible for the safety of everyone who enters their property and uses their pool, whether invited or otherwise.
Although the guidelines may vary from location to location, most municipalities in Ontario have adopted pool safety by-laws that regulate structural safety features such as fences, setbacks from property lines, deck heights, and more. If as a pool owner you fail to follow these steps, and injury or death occurs, you can be sued civilly or prosecuted criminally for not operating your pool according to the law. It’s also important to note that your home insurance policy will generally require that you comply with local regulations in order to qualify for coverage of your pool. It’s a good idea to review your policy at each renewal to confirm that you are following all of your policy’s conditions. While you’re at it, you should also check to ensure that you have appropriate liability coverage for any pool-related mishaps.
Municipal by-laws can help to ensure that a backyard pool is properly constructed to reduce risk, but every pool owner is still responsible for assessing their own circumstances, putting appropriate safety precautions in place, and communicating the rules for safe use before anyone uses the pool. The Life Saving Society website features a useful safety inspection checklist for backyard pool owners that should be consulted every year – ideally when you open your pool each spring. Here are some of the ways you can keep your pool safe and enjoyable all summer long.
All areas of the pool must be fenced in completely, with fencing that is a minimum height of 5 feet. In the City of Toronto, all residential pools installed after 2007 must be fenced on all sides, and lockable gates must prevent direct access to the pool from the house so that young children cannot easily enter the water without adult supervision. Check that there are no holes in the fence, or gaps under it. Check for broken fencing with exposed steel or nails that may cause injury. Gates must be securely fastened and self-closing. They must also be locked when the pool is not in use. Post signs around the pool and near the entrance area stating clearly that entry is not permitted without permission.
Slip resistant deck surfaces are recommended, although they are not mandatory. Rescue equipment, in particular a first-aid kit and a reaching pole (shepherd hook) should be available and kept close at hand. You should have life jackets available for non-swimmers. There are devices available on the market that sound an alarm when a person or object enters the water, which may bring additional peace of mind. Above ground pool ladders should be designed to be removable and should be stored away when the pool is not in use.
Diving boards are not prohibited by law, but if you have a diving board installed, you should check that it is made of non-slip material and is securely fastened to the deck. Diving accidents can cause severe injury, including spinal cord and brain injuries, and all divers should be warned of this danger. While the hazards of deep diving are obvious, diving ‘long’ also presents an extreme danger if the swimmer collides with the slope of the pool’s bottom as it rises toward the shallow end. Because of these risks, it is recommended that pool owners prohibit any diving on their property. NO DIVING signs should be clearly posted, and the message can also be painted on the pool deck.
If you have a slide installed, make sure that it is well-constructed and of a suitable size for your pool. It should be secured solidly according to the manufacturer’s directions. Never substitute a homemade or jerry-rigged contraption for a proper slide.
Users should never go down head first. Only one person should be on the slide at any time, and swimmers should wait for the area in the pool in front of the slide to be cleared before coming down the slide. Never allow anyone to jump into the pool from the top of the slide or any other high structure such as a shed, roof or ladder as they could misjudge their jump and land on the pool deck or another person.
If your pool has both deep and shallow ends, the transition area should be clearly marked above and below the water line. Check water clarity to ensure there is clear visibility down to the bottom of the pool. Test your water frequently to maintain a proper chemical balance and appropriate temperature. All chemicals should labeled and stored securely in sealed containers and kept away from heat. The filter and water outlets should be checked regularly to ensure that their covers are secure and working properly.
It is an unfortunate truth that the vast majority of residential pool drownings involving young children are due to absent or distracted supervision. It cannot be emphasized enough that a responsible adult must always be present to watch over children any time they are using the pool. This means direct and engaged supervision to provide immediate rescue if necessary.
You should ensure that there is never any running or horseplay on the pool deck. Pools are designed with capacity limits that should not be exceeded. A crowded pool is difficult to supervise and can lead to collisions among swimmers.
Finally, be aware of the risks of consuming alcohol around the pool. In addition to an increased risk of drowning, intoxication reduces a person’s judgement and inhibitions, which could lead to accidents in and around the pool. If you are drinking, avoid all use of glass and other breakable beverage containers. Always be sure to enjoy alcohol responsibly.
Although backyard pools can provide hours of enjoyment during the summer, they also impose significant risks and responsibilities on their owners. An ounce of prevention – making the effort to inspect and maintain your pool, and following safety precautions – will allow the pool to be a source of joy for the whole family.
At Howie, Sacks & Henry we help people who have been injured in or around pools and other water bodies. If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, we would be pleased to speak with you about your experience, the nature of your injuries, and what benefits you might be entitled to claim. Please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.