Swimming pool electrocution may be a rare occurrence, but that’s small comfort to the families that have been forever changed by it. While drowning is still the number one pool safety issue, a couple of high profile incidents in the last year have raised awareness about the risk of electrical shock while swimming.
In one case, a 7-year-old boy was electrocuted by a faulty pool light while swimming in his family’s backyard pool (the family is now suing the company that installed the pool). In another incident caught on video, several children were shocked while swimming at an apartment complex pool by a pool pump that wasn’t properly grounded.
Perhaps the worst part of these incidents is that the parents were seemingly powerless to prevent the accidents from happening. Fortunately, that’s not the case with all electrical hazards, especially when it comes to residential pools. As a current or future pool owner, you can reduce your risk of an electrical accident by exercising common sense, following safety guidelines, and making sure your pool meets all current safety standards.
How Electrical Accidents Happen
Electrical accidents involving swimming pools typically fall into one of two categories:
1) accidents due to risky behavior by swimmers or those around the pool (for example, using TVs, radios, or extension cords near the water)
2) accidents due to hazardous pool equipment that’s either malfunctioning or was improperly installed (most often pool lights)
As most of us learn when we’re young, water and electricity do not mix. Because water conducts electricity, an electrified pool can deliver a shock to anyone who touches the water or metal fixtures such as pool ladders. People can also receive a shock when they come into contact with someone else who is being shocked.
The electrical shock alone may be enough to cause serious injury or death. It can also result in unconsciousness or loss of muscle control, causing a person to drown if someone else isn’t nearby to rescue them.
Obviously, cases of electrical shock in swimming pools are horrifying. But given how rare it is, how worried should you be about it happening in your own pool? The answer: Worried enough to take the proper precautions.
Minimizing Your Risk
The best way to prevent electrical accidents is to make sure your swimming pool is in good working order. However, day-to-day behavior around the pool is also key. Here’s a roundup of tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other safety experts.
Upgrade your pool lighting. Experts say the greatest risk of electrical accidents comes from older pool lights. If you have an older pool, considering putting in new lighting that adheres to modern safety standards and is less likely to malfunction due to age.
Have your pool inspected. You should have all electrical components inspected when your pool is first built – not only is it smart, but it’s likely the law in your area. It’s also a good idea to have an older pool inspected periodically, especially if you don’t know the history. If you’re considering moving into a house that already has a pool, have it inspected before you buy.
Do not attempt to do electrical work yourself. There are many pool projects that do-it-yourselfers can take a whack at, but electrical work is best left to a licensed professional.
Keep electrical devices and cords at least five feet away from the pool’s edge. This may seem obvious, but the longer you have your pool, the more likely you are to slip up and do something dangerous. In particular, watch out for extension cords and other power cords that may be damaged.
Always supervise children and intoxicated people. Whenever anyone with questionable judgement is around the pool, a responsible adult should be nearby to make sure electricity and water never meet. A watchful adult can also spot signs of an electrified pool, such as swimmers who are twitching or unresponsive.
Watch for signs of faulty equipment. In particular, look for pool lights that are flickering or just performing erratically. Don’t swim in a pool where anything electrical seems to be going haywire. Shut it down until you resolve the problem.
Have a plan for when your pool becomes electrified. When someone is getting shocked in a pool, the tendency is to panic. Because it’s almost impossible to think clearly in such situations, you should have a plan in place ahead of time so you can do the right thing without thinking. Your plan should include turning off the power, having people exit the pool without touching metal fixtures, and calling an ambulance.