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Swimming pools can be a great way to beat the heat in summer. But they also can be dangerous-especially for children-if you don't take precautions. Nearly 1,000 children die in the United States every year by drowning, and most drownings happen in home swimming pools.


What can I do to stay safe at a home swimming pool?

All backyard pools should be surrounded by a fence to keep children from entering the pool unsupervised. The fence should be at least 4 feet high and completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard. The fence should have self-closing and self-latching gates, and the latches should be out of children's reach.


You and your children should know how to swim; if you don't, enroll in swimming lessons. Teach children to always ask permission to go near the pool.


Make sure an adult is constantly watching children swimming or playing in or near the pool; never leave children unattended near the water or trust a child's life to another child. Always stay within an arm's reach of young children. Avoid distractions such as reading or talking on the phone so you can keep a constant eye on children. Don't drink alcohol before or when you're at the pool, even if you don't plan to swim.


Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets around the pool, but don't rely on them to keep children safe. Don't use air-filled toys such as "water wings" or "noodles" in place of life jackets. Teach children to stay away from drains and filters that cause suction in the pool. Hair and body parts can be pulled in by the suction, which can lead to severe injury or drowning.


Learn CPR in case someone falls into the pool and stops breathing. You may be able to help the person breathe until paramedics arrive.


Even though pools have chlorine in them to help kill germs, pool water can still make you sick. Take these precautions:


* Don't allow children to swim if they have diarrhea (especially children wearing diapers). Germs can spread in the water and make other people sick.


* Teach children not to swallow pool water.


* Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often.


* Don't change a child's diapers at poolside-use a bathroom or diaper-changing area. Always wash your hands afterward.


* Remove toys from the pool immediately after use because they may encourage children to enter the pool.


* Protect against sunburn by using a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply it after swimming.



How can I stay safe at a community swimming pool?

Follow all of the precautions above, as well as the following:


* Swim in a community pool only if it's staffed by trained lifeguards. Ask the pool staff what kind of training they have, and make sure they're CPR-trained.


* Look for clean and clear pool water (you should be able to see the bottom of the pool). The sides of the pool should be smooth, not slippery or sticky.


* Ask the staff if chlorine levels are checked twice per day. A well-chlorinated pool has little odor. If you notice a strong chemical smell, suspect a problem.


* Make sure all pool pumps and filtration systems are working. You should hear them running.



If the staff won't provide answers to your questions or if the area doesn't seem well-supervised and maintained, play it safe and leave.