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Keven Moore on Insurance: As pool season kicks off, be aware of hazards, hidden dangers


Most pools open Memorial Day weekend. (Photo provided)

Most pools open Memorial Day weekend. (Photo provided)


 

Pool season officially kicked off on Memorial Day, and many public, club and private swimming pool owners need to be reminded of the hazards and hidden dangers that are often overlooked this time of the year.
 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Nearly 80 percent of people who die from drowning are male. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. From 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
 

A swimming pool is covered under most homeowner’s and commercial insurance policies but comes with a price on monthly or annual policy statements. Insurance companies know that injuries and drownings are going to happen, and they have to price your policy accordingly to remain profitable.
 

The main factors that affect drowning risk are 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 and seizure disorders.
 

Outside of these obvious drowning risk factors, there are other not-so-obvious hazards that go unnoticed by pool owners and operators. One involves the lethal combination of water and electricity. One tragic accident that occurred just in April and has since received national attention was the death of 7-year old Calder Jacob Sloan, who was electrocuted in his family’s North Miami swimming pool – apparently due to faulty wiring to the pool’s light.
 

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In the wake of the incident the parents have since created a website to educate the public of such hazards. On the website, they state that Calder was an excellent swimmer and could make it to the other side completely underwater while holding his breath. As he made it to the deep end his body began to convulse, he screamed, and he was electrocuted. Despite everyone’s best efforts, he could not be revived and passed away shortly after the incident.
 

Investigators quickly found that their recently serviced pool light was the main offender for taking this young boy’s life. Additionally, the light’s transformer was not adequately grounded. This and a convergence of related electrical protection failures were the culprits for their son’s death. Like most parents they had done everything they could to protect their kids and that of course, included decisions that they made in their very home. They paid professional contractors and major companies to work on their home over the years, and through further investigation they allege that there was gross negligence on the part of multiple parties even to the point of determining the entire house wasn’t adequately grounded, which contributed to the defective pool light hazard.
 

His story has since been featured worldwide on the Today Show, Good Morning America, People magazine, The New York Daily News even The London Daily Mail. Calder’s life has been celebrated around the world in a global viral campaign called “Mr. Awesome,” where Calder’s self drawn “Mr. Awesome portrait” has appeared on the Jumbotron in Times Square, with many celebrities and everyday people wanting to spread awareness. All of these forces have come together to warn people of the dangers of their pools and home wiring to have them checked.
 

In May of 2013 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Red Cross released a study that claimed that there had been 60 deaths and nearly 50 serious shocks reported over the previous 13 years involving electrical hazards in and around swimming pools, spas and hot tubs.
 

The greater hazard associated with electrical shock in a swimming pool is that anyone in the pool may be rendered motionless and unable to rescue themselves or to even call out for help. Drowning then becomes the likely outcome, even if the current is not immediately lethal. Family members, friends and would-be rescuers risk serious injury and even death themselves if the current flow isn’t stopped before they make contact with a conductive fixture, such as a ladder, or enter the water to try to help a victim.
 

Swimming pools aren’t as prevalent in every neighborhood home in the state of Kentucky as they are in South Florida, but there are plenty of new and old pools throughout the Commonwealth. If you own an older pool, it’s important to note that most pools built before 1984 have a full 120 volts of electricity going to their lights.
 

If you own one of those older pools it is recommended that you hire an electrician to change that system over to a 12-volt system. A 12-volt power system for pool lighting uses a transformer to “step down” a potentially deadly 120 volts to just 12. Then, obviously, you want to make sure it is well grounded.
 

A well-grounded system ensures that if something goes wrong, the juice flows to the ground and not to those in the pool. You want to make sure that the wiring from the switch to the transformer to the light has a continuous ground, and with pool lights it has to be an independent grounding system, separate from the rest of the home’s electrical system. It’s important to remember this should be handled by a qualified, licensed electrician.
 

Aside from taking steps to reduce the danger of drowning in backyard swimming pools, the CPSC says pool owners should also perform an electrical safety check before opening their pools to swimmers.  

The areas of biggest concern are:
 

• Faulty underwater lighting
• Aging electrical wiring that hasn’t been inspected in years
• Use of sump pumps, power washers, and vacuums that aren’t grounded
• Use of electrical appliances, such as radios and TVs, or extension cords that could fall or be pulled into the water.
 

All of these hazards pose an even greater risk if the lighting, circuits and nearby receptacles are not protected by ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs), which greatly reduce the danger of electrocution. All residential and commercial pool owners and operators should upgrade protection of the lights, receptacles and switches with GFCIs. Older pools are the biggest concern, as underwater lighting fixtures may have degraded with age and may not be protected by GFCIs. You should even go a step further and still test your GFCI, periodically to ensure that they remain in proper working order.
 

As the summer season heats up, as a pool owner it’s important that you look remain on a constant alert for hazards to avoid such tragedies, so that you can create memories that last a lifetime. Pools are meant for relaxing, enjoyment and entertainment so make pool safety a priority this year and remember to invite your friends over for us deprived non-pool owners.
 

Be safe, my friends.

 

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.


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