Ari Cohen, MD, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medical Services at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, explains what you can do to help keep children safe around portable or inflatable swimming pools.

Summer Safety: How to Keep Your Kids Safe Around Portable Pools

Q&A with Ari Cohen, MD

04/Aug/2011

In the heat of summer, many families turn to portable or inflatable swimming pools for relief. Such pools offer convenience and a low price tag, but parents should know that even small pools pose risks to children. A new study of pool safety* published in the July 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics found that children under 5, especially boys, are at the greatest risk. Most accidents happen in the child’s own yard, and many occur despite adult supervision.

Ari Cohen, MD, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medical Services at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, explains what you can do to help keep children safe.

Q: Do kiddie pools and other kinds of portable pools pose different risks from traditional in-ground pools?

A: Most of the risks are the same. Drowning is the biggest risk, with children who are unsupervised or mistakenly get into the pool because they’re not appropriately secured. You secure in-ground pools and above-ground pools in different ways. For in-ground pools, it’s really important to have four-sided fencing so that decks, patios, houses don’t open directly into the pool. With above-ground pools the issue is really going to be having a secure way to lock the step ladder or entryway. But the risks are essentially the same.

More from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Also, when I think of an above-ground pool, I think of something with walls that are four feet or higher, designed for multiple people to swim. But there’s probably equal risk with kiddie pools—those plastic things you buy at the store that hold 30 gallons of water for the kids to splash around in when it’s hot outside. There’s no safety apparatus surrounding them, whereas with an above-ground pool you have stairways that lock and access that can be controlled.

Any body of water poses a risk to toddlers. I think there’s probably less of a sense of urgency among parents with kiddie pools because they think there’s only a couple of inches of water in them and therefore they’re safer. But you only need a small amount water for a child to drown.

Q: What can we do to help keep kids safe around these types of pools?

A: The most important thing is to never leave a child unattended in or around water. That applies for bath tubs, for kiddie pools and of course for above-ground and in-ground pools. But that’s the number one point of safety—adult supervision for children. It’s constant vigilance, like anything else. If you need to go inside, if you need to step away, then the kids get out of the pool.

Q: What about floatation devices and swim lessons?

A: Kids do things that they shouldn’t do, so floaties and swim lessons and all those things shouldn’t falsely reassure you that kids don’t need constant supervision while they’re in water. If you’re watching, you can pull them out right away if there’s a problem.  

Q: Any other advice?

A: Make sure that if you’re not using a pool, it’s locked up. If you’re not using a kiddie pool for an extended period of time, it should probably be emptied so there’s not water there that a child could fall into. Have a phone by the pool in case you need to dial 911. It’s certainly good to know CPR if you have a pool and it’s easy enough to get CPR classes. But really this is about constant supervision. In this case, preventing bad outcomes is far more important than knowing what to do once a bad outcome has occurred.

*“Pediatric Submersion Events in Portable Above-Ground Pools in the United States, 2001-2009,” Pediatrics, July 2011