Pool Safety Bill Amended
AB 470 was amended after a great deal of discussion between the sponsors of the bill and the CPSA.
The legislative findings within AB 470 assert that isolation fencing is the most effective barrier to prevent pool drownings, but research shows that there is no evidence to definitively support this claim and CPSA worked to take this misinformation out of the bill.
In a University of Sydney study by Professor Philip Ley, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, the study found that 50 to 70 percent of drownings occur in pools with isolation fencing. After an exhaustive analysis of the statistics, Dr. Ley concluded: “There is no scientific evidence that fencing will reduce drownings.” The Australian study suggests no effect, or a slight negative effect (i.e. more deaths). New Zealand data also shows short-term increases in drownings of children under 5 in domestic pools following the introduction of compulsory fencing.
The only study in the United States which provides an understanding of the effect of isolation fencing and child drownings was the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Study. The Phoenix study showed that there were 61 children who were drowning victims admitted to the Children’s Hospital between July 1982 and July 1989. 46 percent of the drowning victims died in pools which had isolation fencing. The Phoenix Building Department stated that less than one percent of the pools in the study’s area had isolation fencing. Therefore, almost one-half of the child drownings which occurred within the Phoenix study took place in just one percent of all residential pools – those with isolation fences.
Both the Sydney and the Phoenix study support CPSA’s contention that isolation fencing around residential swimming pools is not the best prevention to child drownings. In fact, isolation fencing can create a very dangerous false sense of security in the minds of parents and care-givers who are supervising toddlers or young children. Most people believe that if a physical barrier is erected between house and pool, then a child can no longer get from the house to the pool. As time goes by without incident, evidence points to the development of a caregiver’s even greater faith in the ability of the barrier to prevent children from getting into the pool. Supervision is relaxed. The fence becomes something of a “backyard babysitter” until, to quote the Phoenix study: “the child was able to gain access [to the pool] because of: (a) faulty self-closing gates, (b) removable sections were not in place, (c) the gate was left open, (d) removable sections were not in place, (e) another sibling was able to get the gate open or (f) the child was able to climb over or under the fence.”
Isolation fencing is not the best barrier to prevent child drownings; at best this is a controversial opinion. After CPSA informed the author of misinformation within the bill, the Assembly Member agreed to omit this from the legislative findings.
AB 470 now simply increases the mandate of one safety and drowning prevention device to two. Increasing the prevention measures from one to two safety measures may well improve pool safety and CPSA supports this proposal in the spirt of protecting children. However, CPSA strongly believes that one set standard for all of California pool builders and contractors will best allow the industry to comply with and inform homeowners of these requirements. In addition one statewide standard is the best way for residential pool owners to easily find and understand pool safety measures and act in accordance with the law. Because having one set standard is the easiest and most effective way to increase safety, CPSA encouraged the author to strike Section 115925, subsection (c) from the Health and Safety Code to ensure that no political subdivision changes these requirements, confusing builders, contractors and residential pool owners and causing non-compliance on such an important issue. Through many negotiations, the author agreed to take this amendment.
The best prevention of child drownings is the publicity and heightened public awareness of the need for adult supervision of children around a pool. The next best is layered prevention devices such as locks on doors that access the pool and a pool alarm, or door alarms and a safety pool cover, or door alarms and a removable mesh fence. As such CPSA is excited to continue their work with the Pool Safely Campaign to help heighten public awareness for adult supervision and also support AB 470, as amended, which creates uniformity in the requirement of two drowning prevention devices for new pools.