Avoiding backyard danger
Last Updated September 26, 2006
It wasn't that long ago that it would cost you a small fortune to pay for the luxury of a cool dip on a hot day in your own backyard – unless you were satisfied with standing ankle-deep in your kids' plastic froggie pool.
But, over the past few years, new pool technology has made beating the heat affordable for far more people.
They're called inflatable pools and they sell for anywhere from $50 to around $1,000. Unlike the old rigid above-ground pools, they're a snap to install. You just lay the pool on a flat surface, inflate it and fill it with water. The pools are made of durable PVC and are designed to last for several seasons.
It's the same kind of pool that was set up in the backyard of a home in Joliette, Que., on May 14, 2006 – Mother's Day. The next morning, a four-year-old boy was found floating face down in the pool. Efforts to revive him failed and he was pronounced dead at hospital.
"People don't think that [inflatable pools are] dangerous," Edith Lemay of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Red Cross told CBC News. "You can buy it pretty cheap, it's really easy to set up, and they don't think you need to fence it off."
Any pool that can't be emptied easily should be surrounded by a fence with a self-locking gate, Lemay said.
Bylaws covering fences around pools vary from municipality to municipality across the country – and not all cover inflatable pools. The Red Cross recommends that fences be at least two metres high and surround the pool completely. The house should not be part of the pool enclosure. As well, gates should be self-latching and self-closing so it's not accidentally left open.
The boy's death prompted the Red Cross to issue a warning about inflatable pools. The agency notes that drowning remains one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of five. In 2002, 13 Canadian children drowned in family pools. The vast majority were alone when they got into trouble.
"Inflatable pools pose the same dangers as any back-yard pool, especially for young children," Michele Mercier, National Manager of Water Safety for the Canadian Red Cross said in a news release. "Supervision and fencing must be a priority to ensure these pools result in summer fun rather than tragedy."
In February 2006, Consumer Reports magazine listed inflatable pools as one of eight products not to buy for kids. The magazine said the pools are too big too empty everyday and too inexpensive for parents to consider surrounding with a permanent fence. "So they sit unattended in the backyard," the magazine said, "a drowning hazard."
It's not just toddlers who are at risk when it comes to inflatable pools. On July 17, 2005, a 13-year-old Quebec girl died when her long hair got caught in the pump of a relative's pool filter. In most pools, the filter intake is located near the surface of the water. In an inflatable pool, the intake can be 30 centimetres below the surface.
After that incident, the Quebec coroner's office warned owners of inflatable pools to make sure filter intakes are covered with screens.
Health Canada issued a warning after that incident, offering these tips for inflatable pool safety:
- Read all instructions before installing, filling and using the pool. Carry out regular pool maintenance to ensure that all components are working properly and safely.
- Consider only pools that have filter intake pipes with drain covers. Never use the pool if the drain cover is broken or missing.
- Have a qualified pool professional inspect the drain cover on your pool to prevent body and hair entrapment.
- Contact your local municipality to ensure that you meet all relevant bylaws before installing and filling a pool. In many municipalities, inflatable pools are covered by the same bylaws as in-ground and above-ground pools.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information notes that for every toddler who drowned in 2002-2003, six to 10 others suffered near-drownings that required hospitalization. A quarter of those children suffered some form of permanent brain damage.
Figures gathered by the Red Cross show that since 1991, only four per cent of reported toddler drownings were in pools with self-closing and self-latching gates. With Environment Canada forecasting a warmer than usual summer for 2006, sales of inflatable pools are expected to remain strong. The Red Cross is advising parents to know the risks so they can take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of accidental drowning.
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