By: Tatum Tipton
As I look out my office window at the snow covered landscape, it’s hard to imagine that summer is right around the corner. While it may be frigid outside, my Pinterest has become an ode to the warmer days ahead. I have boards that range from barbequing secrets and recipes for the best lemonade to the most picturesque spots to hike in Colorado and how to get beach body ready. Needless to say, summer can’t get here fast enough.
With the anticipation of summer, I can’t help but think back on my childhood summers at the pool. I am fortunate that from as far back as I can remember, my grandparents have lived in a neighborhood with a community pool. I use the term “community” pool loosely because, in all actuality, my sister and I were the only people there most of the time. When we were young, our grandparents would go with us to the pool and watch us swim for hours. But as we got older, they let us walk down to the pool by ourselves. We felt like real rebels with all that freedom—just her and I at the pool. We would get away with the things we couldn’t do when our grandparents were chaperoning us: running on the pool deck, dunking each other, pushing each other in; the sky was the limit.
While my sister and I had the time of our lives unaccompanied at the pool, this was a time when children did not carry cell phones. There were no lifeguards at this pool and neither one of us knew how to perform CPR. We were very fortunate that our roughhousing never led to any physical injuries, just occasional hurt feelings.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as we were, and every year families’ fun vacations turn tragic. According to the CDC, there are approximately 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings annually each year, with about one in five being children under the age of 14. Additionally, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency-department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning or a permanent vegetative state.
In addition to drowning and near-drowning, severe spinal cord injuries from diving into swimming pools are a risk. Diving is one of the most preventable causes of spinal cord injuries. These types of accidents are more common than most people realize, with diving being the fourth leading cause of a spinal cord injury for men and the fifth for women, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. The outcome is often a severe cervical injury resulting in quadriplegia, requiring the person to use a wheelchair for the rest of their lives and relying on others for help with the most basic tasks.
One common-but-often-overlooked type of injury associated with swimming pools is chemical related injuries. Each year thousands of Americans are injured by the chemicals designed to keep swimming pools safe and sanitary. In 2012 alone, the CDC reported that 4,876 people were taken to the emergency room after being injured by swimming-pool chemicals. Some of the most common includes inhaling the chemical vapors (primarily chlorine), and chemical burns to the skin or eyes from handling the substance without proper protective equipment.
Another usually-less-serious-but-more-common class of injuries associated with swimming pools are slip and fall related injuries. These types of injuries can range anywhere from a skinned knee to a broken bone or concussion, depending on the severity of the fall.
Common factors contributing to swimming pool injuries include: improper supervision; improperly trained life guards at public pools; improper barriers around pools to keep out unsupervised children; ill-maintained tile or surfaces surrounding the pool; tools or other obstructions around the pool perimeter; failing to post depth markers and signs displaying necessary warnings; and, too many chemicals added to the pool.
This isn’t to tell you to stay out of the pool this summer; we will be in the pool with our families. But we want you to be aware of the dangers so you can protect your family and make sure the person in charge of the pool has taken the proper precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. If you are at a public pool, swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards. If you have a private pool make sure it is secured with appropriate barriers and that you have appropriate equipment, such as poles, ropes and floatation devices near the pool. Whether you’re at a public or a private pool, you should always swim with a buddy and children should always have constant supervision. Proper chemical levels should always be maintained by regularly testing and adjusting the levels. Chemicals should always be kept locked up and away from the general public in a safe location and should be handled only when wearing the appropriate protective equipment. You should never dive into the shallow end of the pool, and always look before you leap. Pool decks should always be clear of any obstructions and running should never be done near or around a pool as the surface surrounding a pool is usually slippery.
Unfortunately, even if you take all the precautions in the world, you cannot always determine every danger that is lurking. Someone else’s mismarking of the shallow end could be the difference between life or death. If you or a loved-one have experienced a swimming pool-related injury and you would like to discuss your legal options, please contact an attorney for help.