Dangerous Swimming Pool
An all-to-common tragedy
faced by the water -safety community each year involves a child, a guest,
or a friend who drowns while swimming in the presence of others who are
swimming in the same pool. The general public, untrained in the investigation
and causation of water safety deaths, justifiably can wonder how such
a drowning could occur. Unfortunately, the pattern of such swimming deaths
is quite similar.
The average person
is usually unfamiliar with the pool's depth, slope and bottom configuration;
untrained in identifying the initial stages of drowning when the victim
is in panic thrashing about atop the water for a matter of seconds, and
then slipping underwater and out of view. While not generally realized
drowning victims almost never yell for help with their major concern being
to continue breathing.
A properly-positioned lifeguard could easily prevent these needless deaths.
A certified water-safety professional is trained in identifying drowning
behavior, making rescues and performing life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation
(CPR) procedures. The lifeguard perched atop a chair can easily identify
swimmers most at risk of slipping into distress. Accident prevention is
the lifeguard's primary responsibility.
Three Stages of Drowning
In Stage I the victim is vertical in the water, with arms extended out
from the side, moving about in a manner deceptively resembling a swimming
movement to the untrained observer. The victim has his head held back
to keep the mouth and nose above water and does not yell for help because
it would require expelling air from the lungs. The natural reflex is to
keep the mouth closed to prevent taking in water and to preserve air.
The victim will struggle for only 20 to 60 seconds before going below
the water's surface. The properly-positioned lifeguard is uniquely able
to identify swimmers at risk and to timely make the rescue.
The victim gradually becomes physically exhausted and is unable to stay
atop the water. Of course, the victim is still conscious and now below
the surface and begins to hold breath. But then there is the need to inhale
and a frantic attempt is made to reach the surface. If the victim is unable
to reach the surface, the victim inhales water into the mouth and then
into the respiratory system with water entering the lungs. Thereafter,
reflexive coughing and gagging takes place, damaging tissues in the pulmonary
system and ultimately blood appears in the victim's mouth, followed frequently
by vomiting. Unable to obtain air, the victim begins to lapse into unconsciousness,
accompanied by convulsive spasms, involuntary urination and bowel movement.
At this point breathing stops and the respiratory system shuts down.
Now that the
victim is unconscious, there is twitching of facial muscles and cardiac
arrest occurs as the circulatory system stops functioning. The body sinks
to the bottom and with the absence of breathing and blood circulation,
clinical death results. The brain may remain viable for approximately
5 minutes in warm water. Absent CPR, biological death occurs with the
cessation of brain activity.
Of course, the stages
take place quite rapidly and thus the need for immediate and effective
A typical pool ordinance applicable to hotels and motels requires that
the slope of the pool bottom, where the shallow end leads to the deep
end, be no steeper than one foot vertical drop for each three feet horizontal;
requires the placement of a 36" high fence or other barrier with a self-latching
gate be located such that points of access to the users of the pool are
at a part of the pool deck adjacent to water having a depth of not more
than four feet; requires that a shepherd's crook and a ring buoy be mounted
on one side of the pool at approximately the halfway point of the length
of the pool; and requires that a first aid kit be placed at all pools.
Any investigation into a swimming pool death should address the following
questions. Was there a lifeguard on duty at the time of the incident and
if not why not? Was the pool design substandard and a substantial factor
in the drowning? Was there a violation of local safety codes? Were video-monitoring
equipment, safety alarm buttons, or emergency phones installed at or near
the pool which would enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome to
a potentially tragic water incident?
Death in a swimming pool is a reasonably foreseeable and preventable event
which can arise as a result of a failure to have a trained lifeguard to
minimize and or eliminate the risk of drowning at a pool. Another factor
that can contribute to a swimming pool tragedy is a defectively designed
pool not built in accordance with acceptable industry standards and in
compliance with local ordinances. Pool water can be a dangerous place.
Accident prevention is the goal.
This informational piece was prepared by Monheit, Silverman & Fodera. If you would like more information on this topic, call us at (800) 220-LAW1, or use the "Do I Have A Case?" button on this web site.
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