June 5th - 2013

Safety is paramount for swimming pool owners

Ten seconds is all it takes for someone to drown.

Ten seconds is all it takes for someone to drown.

The cruelly short time in which a tragedy can occur should serve as a warning to owners of homes with swimming pools, according to the Lifesaving Society.

Water safety“Someone might buy a house with a swimming pool but the pool wasn’t the main factor in their decision and they don’t understand the risks,” says Barbara Byers, public education director for the Lifesaving Society’s Ontario region. “Although a backyard pool can be a wonderful thing, home owners must understand the risks and take various steps to increase safety.”

Everyone has a role to play in water safety, she says, including home buyers, sellers and real estate professionals. “We should all strive to ensure that safety comes first,” she says. “REALTORS® who give information to the buyer about the risks as well as the benefits of a pool are providing a valuable service. Knowledge can prevent a tragedy, and I think most consumers would be grateful to anyone who helps inform them about safety.”

The Lifesaving Society has published Backyard Pool Safety Guidelines, which provides detailed information for backyard pool owners about ways to minimize the risks of drowning and water-related injury. The society has also produced a brochure and video, Within Arms’ Reach: Water Smart® Advice for Parents. It includes comments from Canadian figure skater Barbara Underhill, whose eight-month-old daughter Stephanie drowned in a backyard pool. The society recommends that REALTORS® inform buyers of homes with pools that the water safety brochure and video are available to the public.

Children under the age of five are at highest risk of drowning, with double the number of fatalities over any other age group. “Toddlers haven’t yet learned respect or fear of water and usually don’t know how to swim,” says Byers. “As well, the water has a magnetic attraction for them and they want to go there.”

Most drowning is very fast and silent, she says. Almost 500 Canadians drown every year on average. Although a backyard pool is a terrific oasis on a summer day, pool owners and visitors should take precautions to prevent a tragedy.

Don’t count on hearing a cry for help or a splash or wave, she says. Usually none of these sounds or reactions occurs. Often a child slips quietly under the surface and can’t be seen or heard from the house. Drowning victims rarely call out for help, wave or signal for help because they can’t keep their head or arms above water. Most young drowning victims are children or relatives of the backyard pool owner, and most gained access to the pool from the house. “Most often the story is that a child scampers out while the parents thought the door was locked or that the child was elsewhere in the house.”

Often the caregivers have turned away for a moment or are busy in another part of the house. They don’t feel the need to watch the children every single moment, but toddlers and preschoolers are naturally curious about water and ingenious at finding their way to it. “It’s not that people don’t care -- it’s just that they aren’t aware of how fast a tragedy can happen.” 

“Drowning happens so quickly and silently that you must be on high alert to control or restrict access to a pool area,” she says. “You can’t rely on one single thing to ensure water safety, which is why we recommend several steps to create layers of protection.”

Multiple barriers to restrict access to the pool are recommended, she notes. “The goal is to reduce the risks,” she says. “Human error can occur if someone forgets to close or lock the gate to the pool. That’s why other layers of protection are needed.”

See accompanying tips for swimming pool safety.

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Ontario Real Estate Association

Jean-Adrien Delicano

Manager, Media Relations


416-445-9910 ext. 246