Pool Safety Hinges on the Right Gate Lock

April 1, 2016
Security starts at the perimeter. Any gate leading into a pool or spa area must be equipped with an automatic locking latch and closer and must meet all state and local codes.

The latest statistical data from the CDC indicates that more than 170 children between the ages of 1 and 14 died during 2014 by drowning and 112 of them were under the age of five (http://1.usa.gov/1RHOPrX).

“There were, on average, an estimated 5,400 pool- or spa-related hospital emergency department (“ED”)-treated non-fatal drowning injuries each year for 2012 through 2014, and 382 pool or spa-related drownings reported per year for 2010 through 2012, involving children younger than 15 years of age” (Pool or Spa Submersion: Estimated Non-Fatal Drowning Injuries and Reported Drownings, 2015 Report, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, http://bit.ly/1Q5kF0q).

Frankly, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than when a young child wanders into an unattended, unprotected swimming pool and suffers serious injury or death. For the owner of the pool, such a tragedy can result in criminal and civil charges, not to mention how drastically such a horrific accident can affect the lives of those involved.

“According to the federal government's statistics, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years. For younger children between 1 and 4, the risk rises to make accidental drowning the biggest source of injury-related deaths. For every one child who dies from drowning, another four children receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries” (Swimming Pool Injuries, Findlaw, http://bit.ly/20XdM8o).

Injury also is a problem where a child dives into the pool or slips on wet tile and hits their head, thus causing an injury that may very well require special care for the remainder of his or her life. There are other types of injury that can also befall children as well as adults.

“Some of the most serious non-fatal swimming pool injuries can include traumatic brain injury (TBI), disembowelment and evisceration, and other submersion injuries. TBI can occur when a swimmer dives into pools and hits his/her head. Often, the person who hit his/her head may not even appear to be injured” (Swimming Pool Injuries, Findlaw, http://bit.ly/20XdM8o).

State and national laws address the construction and method of protection, with regards to securing swimming pools and spas from children under 5 years of age. For the locksmith, it’s imperative that you understand the security and safety requirements associated with swimming pools. In fact, it’s important that you understand certain construction elements as well so you can advise your client on best practices, or at least direct them to relevant information on the Internet.

Code Compliance

Most state and local governments have enacted laws that seek to make public swimming pools, wading pools, spas, and special use pools safer for everyone, especially children five and under. In most cases state institutions are charged with conducting oversight with regards to local codification and enforcement.

In the State of Ohio, for example, it’s the ODH (Ohio Department of Health) that is tasked with this effort. Through Chapter 3749 of the ORC (Ohio Revised Code) and Chapter 3701-31 of the OAC (Ohio Administrative Code), those who professionally design and install public aquatic-related facilities are obligated by law to follow state guidelines. An important point to make is that ODH is tasked only with public aquatic facilities, not private pools. By definition, a private swimming pool or spa is one that serves a residence with three families or less.

ODH will provide preliminary guidance during the design phase of a construction project. They also provide routine inspections as well as training as it relates to the “construction, operation, maintenance, troubleshooting and evaluation of public swimming pools” (http://1.usa.gov/1QjarM3). For additional information on the legal aspects of public swimming pools, go to http://1.usa.gov/1WpLKfg.

One swimming pool standard, NF P90 306, developed in France by the CSC (Centre de sécurité des consommateurs), is often cited by many swimming pool/spa professionals as sound advice to follow on the various aspects of pool protection. Within this standard are a number of precepts for locksmiths to follow (http://bit.ly/20XVpjP). In addition, according to NF P90 306, this gate lock must be designed where a simultaneous two-step process is required for anyone to unlatch it.

Security at the Gate

The key to preventing injuries and deaths is to control access into a pool area and the place to begin is at the gate door. Toward this end, any gate leading into a pool or spa area must be equipped with an automatic locking latch and closer. The mechanical closer and latch must be designed to withstand the out of doors. The fence itself as well as the gate should be at minimum 3.61 feet  (see sidebar), ideally 5 feet tall. The latch should be capable of automatically securing the gate when it closes. The latch, which should be mounted at least 54 inches AGL (Above Ground Level), or as high on the gate as possible, must be capable of requiring two simultaneous actions to release the gate.

“The gate latch should be out of the reach of children, at least 54 inches from the ground. Use a locking latch, and keep it locked when pool is not in use. Store the key out of children’s reached and make sure all adults know where the key is kept” (D&D Technologies Observes Drowning Prevention Month, Locksmith Ledger, http://bit.ly/24cX2t7).

Codified requirements in the state of Arizona also calls for a height of 54 inches. “Gates for the enclosure shall be self-closing and self-latching with the latch located at least 54 inches above the underlying ground or on the pool side of the gate with a release mechanism at least five inches below the top of the gate and no opening greater than one-half inch within 24 inches of the release mechanism or be secured by a padlock or similar device which requires a key, electric opener or integral combination which can have the latch at any height. (36-1681, Pool enclosures; requirements; exceptions; enforcement, http://bit.ly/1TqsFKE).

Be sure to check with your local and state health department for the details on swimming pools and spas in your area.

Gate Locks 

Several gate locks are listed and capable of providing security on pool and spa gates. Here are three products and a new one to review along with a handy link to follow:

The 2835 Keyless Lever Lock w/ Passage (http://bit.ly/1mMqy77), combined with one of several gate boxes and/or kits (http://bit.ly/1TuRNkE), both manufactured by LockeyUSA of Mt. Pleasant, MI., offers a mechanical solution that includes a PIN-oriented combination. Keyless locks installed on gates offer added security and remove the risk of children getting hold of keys. Many varieties of keyless locks are available including compatible gate boxes. Double Combination (DC) locks are recommended for gates to prevent the risk of individuals reaching through or over the gate to open it.

The TWIST40 swimming pool gate lock manufactured by Locinox USA Inc. of Countryside, Il, has a stainless steel mechanism and polyamide/powder coated housing and installs into the gate upright at the top of the gate. The TWIST40 (http://bit.ly/1mMnxn5) opens with a "press and twist" action which prevents the access to the pool for small children. The unique rollerbolt reduces latch resistance allowing the gate to close easier. For gate profiles of 1-1/2" only.

The MagnaLatch Safety Gate Latch, manufactured by D&D Technologies (USA) Inc. of  Huntington Beach, CA, is designed specifically for securing gates around swimming pools, using a patented magnetic technology and super-strong ‘Permanent Magnets’ technology to eliminate the possibility of mechanical jamming while closing. (http://bit.ly/1SEYpgc).

And New on the Scene is the MagnaLatch® ALERT Gate Latch-Alarm (http://bit.ly/1VsBSBh), manufactured by D&D Technologies. This new offering combines the attributes of a security latch along with product safety traceability, along with a dual-alarm system (sight and sound alerts). This significantly raises the bar for gate safety by offering the highest level of safety and peace-of-mind around pools and spas.

Fence Considerations

Although it may not be the locksmith’s responsibility to install all the mechanisms involved in protecting children ages 5 and under from unsupervised access to a private or public pool and spa, it is advisable that you have an understanding of the basic requirements. There is no room for mistakes because a single error can mean the injury or death of an innocent child. Besides the difficulty you and others would have with such an outcome, there could be serious legal issues arise from your involvement. By having a knowledge of the basics, it may be possible for you to identify a problem that the contractor and/or owner should be aware of.

Successful protection of a swimming pool or spa hinges on several precautions that essentially take on a layered appearance. Placement of the pool is important and that’s why it’s best to position it away from the house so children cannot gain unsupervised access through an adjoining door. When the protected side of a pool area includes one or two sides of the structure, doors that lead into the pool space also should be equipped with an automatic closer and a means of spontaneously latching it. Just like the access gate into the pool area, the latch should be positioned as high as possible to assure that children cannot reach it.

All chairs and other climbable items should be kept inside the protected area for obvious reasons. In addition, the fencing should not be climbable and vertical bars should be close enough together that young children cannot squeeze through them to gain access to the pool.

According to the CSC  (Centre de sécurité des consommateurs), the fence should be at least 1m (3.28 feet) from the water’s edge and at least 1.1 m. (3.61 feet) high, although some code enforcement organizations stipulate a minimum height of 5 feet. (1.524 m). The access gate that leads into the pool area also should open outward and it needs to be self closing and latching.