With the warm weather of summer, many people are opening up their homes to friends and family for backyard cookouts, birthday parties, and weddings. Home entertaining can be very rewarding, but as a homeowner you should always be aware of your legal responsibility to those you invite into your home. Generally, property owners have an obligation to provide a safe environment for visitors and guests.
For millions of Americans, swimming pools and spas are great places to spend time together. But pools and spas come with some very important safety concerns. About a third of all children aged one to four who die accidentally each year are victims of drowning, most in residential swimming pools. On average, 390 children drown each year in pool and spa drownings, and over 5,000 more are injured. Swimming pool safety is a critical concern nationwide, and both the federal and individual state governments provide guidance and instruction. During the week of July 22-29, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will hold its Pool Safety Campaign to promote water safety. Additionally, each state enforces its own pool safety regulations. In Massachusetts, swimming pool safety requirements are contained in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, 105 CMR 435.00: MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR SWIMMING POOLS. If you have or are considering installing a swimming pool, you must comply with this regulation. Here are some of the major safety requirements for swimming pools.
Fencing: All pools in Massachusetts must be enclosed in a protective barrier (fence) at least four feet high. All gates must have a locking device, must open outward away from the swimming pool and must be self-closing. The lock needs to be at least four feet from the ground so it cannot be reached by small children. If there is a back door to your house that opens into the swimming pool enclosure area, state law requires an alarm on that door. If someone suffers a personal injury or drowning in a residential pool that was not properly fenced in, the homeowner can be liable for those injuries.
Portable Pools: In recent years, the popularity of portable pools has added to the drowning risk. Portable pools currently account for 10% of all drowning for children under the age of five. Many portable swimming pools are inflatable, inexpensive, and easy to assemble. Consequently, many homeowners do not regard them as a serious risk and often overlook the requirement for a safety fence. Homeowners with inflatable pools that do not meet the state and federal safety requirements (such as fencing) are susceptible to personal injury lawsuits.
Drain Equipment: Horrible injuries can occur in swimming pools when a child or adult comes too close to an uncovered drain. These drains can contain powerful pumps that trap victims underwater. In 2008, the federal government passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act in response to several reported deaths from suction entrapment due to faulty drain covers. The Act requires pool drains be fitted with safety covers to prevent suction entrapment. All pools, no matter how old, should be checked to confirm their drains meet the current safety requirements.
Diving Structures: Catastrophic head or spinal cord injuries can occur from diving into shallow water. The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that a homeowner has no duty to warn and no liability for someone who dives into the shallow end of a pool because that is an open and obvious danger. (masscases.com/cases/sjc/431/431mass201.html) But what about the dangers of diving from a diving board into deeper water? Homeowners need to be aware of the numerous safety regulations for water depth and diving structures that regulate how high the structure can be from the water, how deep the water must be (at least nine feet), and for hand and guard rail requirements. In addition, homeowner’s policies may have their own required precautions.
Pool Slides: All pool slides, both permanent and inflatable, must meet federal government safety regulations. Beyond that, homeowners with pool slides must be aware of the dangers they present and act reasonably to protect guests from injuries.
As you can see, making the decision to have a residential pool is a serious commitment. You must make sure you know and follow all town, state and federal requirements for pool construction. In addition, you should establish basic water safety practices for all who are allowed to use your pool. These steps include never allowing anyone, child or adult, to swim alone; always have an adult who knows how to swim and knows CPR watch children in the pool; ask a child’s parents about their swimming ability before they get into the pool; have a no running/pushing in/roughhousing policy; and if a child is missing, look in the pool first!