Fencing Study: More Safety Strategies Needed

            A study recently published in the journal “Pediatrics” says that even if all residential pools had fences, most drowning of children under 5 years old would not be prevented.

            Fences are a big help, the study concluded, but only 19% of pool related drowning are in 1994 would have been prevented with adequate fencing.  The study was conducted by doctors and researchers at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Public Health Service, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

            A telephone survey found that 18.5 million American households owned or had access to an outdoor swimming pool, and 76% (13.9million) of them appeared to have had adequate fencing.  Of the 466 pool-related drowning in 1994 of children under 5, only 88 would have been prevented if all residential pools were properly fenced, the survey results.

            “Thus, additional strategies to prevent drowning will be needed,” the study concluded.

            Though surprised by the findings, “I don’t think we’re supposed to trash the idea of isolation pool safety fencing as a safety mechanism,” says Christine Branche, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

            She believes there should be a scientific evaluation of how pool alarms, pool covers and isolation fencing work in combination.  “I have always said that we need to encourage the research community to address this gap,” she says.

            She and the other researchers are adamant that caretakers be educated about water safety, including the importance of constant supervision, the need for a telephone and rescue equipment poolside, and the value of CPR training.  In addition, caretakers should remove toys from the pool after use so children are not tempted to retrieve them.

            “Although urging parents and care-givers to be vigilant when supervising children playing in recreational waters is important, it is insufficient to prevent all drowning,” the study says.




Child Drowning Study - Barriers

(Re-printed from a 1998 Northern California NSPI Chapter Newsletter)


            Over the past dozen or more years we have found ourselves debating the value of four-sided isolation fencing around a swimming pools before city councils, county boards of supervisors and the State Legislature.  At all of these political fights we were opposed by a coalition of “child drowning prevention” advocates.  Perhaps the most prestigious of these organizations demanding four-sided fencing legislation has been the National Academy of Pediatrics.  They have appeared in every hearing from the first one before the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

            At every occasion, the pediatricians have staked their professional reputations on their “certain knowledge” that such isolation fencing would have saved all of the children who have drowned and who have been injured in near drowning accidents.  SPEC has always argued that this assertion was false.  Isolation fences create a false sense of security, “allowing” those responsible for supervising toddlers playing in yards with fenced pools, to drop their guards for “just a moment or two” to answer phones, front doors, make bathroom trips, etc. etc.

            This past June the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics published the accompanying study, “Childhood Drowning and Fencing of Outdoor Pools in the United States, 1994.”  The scientific study, perhaps the only thorough study on this subject in the U.S., was designed to determine the effectiveness of four-sided isolation fencing in preventing child pool accidents.  The study came to the same conclusion as did Dr. Lay’s study in Australia nearly a decade ago.

            “Our research suggests that even if all residential pools in the United States were properly fenced, most drowning among children 5 years of age would not be prevented.”