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Safety is an important concept at swimming pools. Occasionally, visual communication is needed to provide safety reminders, such as people swim at their own risk if a lifeguard isn’t around, there’s no diving allowed, and that some pool chemicals may be dangerous. Swimming pool signs are a great tool for this communication and easy to implement.
State-by-State Guide to Pool Signage and Fencing Requirements
For all its charms, pool ownership comes with some weighty responsibilities. To help pool owners and operators meet the challenging task of making sure that their pools are safe, we have put together a description of pool sign and fencing laws in all 50 U.S. states, as well as information about general pool issues such as insurance, liability, and safety measures. Before we tell you what you need to know about pool regulations and safety issues, let’s begin with a brief story that shows why pool signs and other safety measures are so crucial.
Why Pool Signs?
On vacation in Palm Springs, California, Morris Haft and his son Mark—both inexperienced swimmers—went for a swim in the pool at the Lone Palm Hotel. The pool did not have a lifeguard on duty, and Morris and Mark were the only guests swimming that day. Tragically, both Morris and 5-year old Mark drowned. In the aftermath of the incident, the Haft family sued the hotel for failing to take necessary safety precautions to prevent the drowning. After a prolonged legal battle, the hotel was found liable for damages since, among other things, it did not display signs with the warnings required by California law. This heartbreaking story illustrates the tremendous importance of posting safety signage—both to prevent unnecessary accidents and protect against liability.
While pools are less prevalent in some states due to climate, backyard and public swimming pools are extremely common across the United States. By some estimates there are nearly 7 million hot tubs and 9 million pools (public and residential) in the U.S. Considering how many devastating and, in many cases, preventable drownings (like that of the Hafts) occur each year, it is easy to see why swimming pool signage and other safety measures are so important.
Because of the potential for liability and the responsibility to protect strangers and loved ones alike, pool signage is an absolute must for both public and residential pools. In this post, we outline many of the laws, definitions, and legal precedents governing swimming pool liability at federal, state, and local levels. While there are countless legal issues relating to pool ownership (installation, location, care, maintenance, etc.) we focus on what we do best–signage. As a labor of love, we also outline swimming pool fencing laws for each state. We hope that the information we provide not only helps pool owners and operators adhere to relevant laws, but also reduces drownings and other pool accidents.
Before we dive in (sorry, couldn’t resist) let us note one quick disclaimer: we’re not legal experts and this post is not professional legal advice. While we’ve identified the laws that we know of, both homeowners and public pool administrators should ensure that signage and fencing used around pools meet any applicable local, state, and federal requirements. We will not be held liable for any signage or fencing that fails to meet legal requirements. Moreover, while we frequently reference federal, state, county, and city laws, we make no guarantees about the recency or validity of these codes. Pool owners are responsible for finding and following the statutes that govern their pools. With that out of the way, we can go forward with our discussion of the safety and liability considerations that pool owners should be familiar with. If you are only interested in the requirements for your state, jump to our state-by-state breakdown of swimming pool laws.
What is Swimming Pool Liability?
Defined literally, liable means “responsible by law or legally answerable.” While swimming pool liability is fairly straightforward for commercial and public pools, it is much less so in a residential setting, since both sides have convincing arguments in pool injury claims. Home/pool owners can use trespassing laws in their favor while injured parties often use legal angles such as “attractive nuisance.” Other legal doctrines that could come into play in a pool lawsuit include negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, and inadequate supervision. Regardless, the potential for liability is an indisputable reality of pool ownership.
What Kind of Pool Insurance do I need?
Though homeowners often believe they need some kind of separate insurance policy for their pool or spa, this is not the case. Rather, insurance for pools is covered under the personal liability section of any insurance policy. There are many things to consider when getting insured as a pool owner in a residential setting.
First, pools are dangerous regardless of precautions taken. Consequently, almost all insurance companies and agents advise homeowners to increase their personal liability limit from the standard 100,000 to 300 or 500,000. This will help protect pool owners in the tragic case of accident or death and the resulting medical and/or legal costs.
Second, even after increasing personal liability limits, most insurance providers also recommend that homeowners buy a separate “umbrella policy,” which can provide up to 1 million in personal liability protection and act as a supplement to personal liability coverage. In many cases, these umbrella policies can be had for an annual premium increase of as little as 50 to 100 dollars–well worth the assurance that you are covered if tragedy strikes on your property.
Third, homeowners should also ascertain whether their insurance policy covers damage to the pool itself from adverse weather, installation, etc. pool owners should also make sure that the pool manufacturer or installation company is insured, since such contractors and companies often have a specific Pool and Spa insurance policy that reduces their liability in the case of an accident.
From the perspective of insurance companies, pools are very risky. Although it seems somewhat callous, the enormous costs associated with pool-related accidents and deaths prompt insurance providers to be extremely cautious in extending coverage to pool owners.
For example, almost all insurance companies require policyholders to erect pool fences that meet certain criteria such as height (4 feet is most common), building material, spacing of slats, placement, etc. While criteria vary from state to state, most providers also consider whether your pool sits above or below ground, has a diving board or water slide, and other characteristics. In short, they want to know every detail about the pool before signing off on a policy. In the paragraphs below, we outline many ways that homeowners can make their pools safer. These precautions should go a long way toward obtaining an insurance policy.
How Far-Reaching is Homeowner Pool Liability?
Simply put, there is a lot of liability that comes with pool ownership. In some circumstances, homeowners can be liable for accident or death at their pool even if they post warnings and take proper fencing precautions. What’s more, pool owners may still be held responsible when the person involved in the accident did not have permission to use the pool (this is often the case in the “attractive nuisance” situations described above). While a case involving unauthorized pool use would also involve trespassing laws, the potential for pool owner liability remains, underscoring the necessity of taking every possible precaution to reduce risk. In brief, pool owners should do everything in their power to protect themselves from the inherent legal risks of pool ownership.
What about Liability for Public Pools?
If a simple residential pool, despite safety precautions, carries serious liability risks for homeowners and insurers alike, one can only imagine the legal issues faced by pools that are open to the public. In addition to prospective legal responsibility for swimmers, public-use pools must also deal with issues such as lifeguards, water sanitation, pool temperature, pool chemicals, employees, sexual abuse, crime, and more. Given all of these potential sources of liability, it goes without saying that insurance for public-use pools is a must. In many instances, local regulations require pools that are open to the public (including pools operating by hotels, clubs, municipalities, commercial enterprises, etc.) to have insurance as a condition of operation.
Typically, public pool insurance policies are designed to cover “property and liability exposures.” This means that the policy contains elements that provide coverage for incidents related to the pool facility, lifeguards, staff, board, pool operators, equipment, as well as sexual abuse and molestation cases. Additional policies can be obtained for specific purposes or groups such as swim teams, pool management companies, and community pool operators, to name a few. Similar to residential policies, public-use pools can often purchase “umbrella policies” that supplement basic liability coverage, though these policies are usually in then 5-15 million dollar limit range though for pools open to the public (compared to 1 million in a residential setting).
As with any other type of insurance, the accidents and amounts covered by policies for public use pools vary substantially. The bottom line is that any commercial or public pool operator needs to do their research to ensure they are protected in any scenario.
How Can Homeowners Reduce Risk?
Besides insurance coverage, there are a number of different ways that homeowners can reduce the liability that comes with owning a pool. As noted above, insurance providers often require some of these precautions before they will issue a policy. While most of these measures will not absolve homeowners of underlying liability, they can go a long way in preventing incidents that trigger litigious situations, not to mention tragedies. Though not an exhaustive list, here are a number of common ways to reduce liability:
Pool Covers – Using a pool cover can be a great way not only to deter accidents involving children, but also prevent uninvited guests from swimming in your pool. Covers should be used regularly, not just during periods of infrequent use.
Fences / Gates – The most obvious way to decrease risk is to enclose the pool with a fence with gates that are kept locked. An additional steps would be to install some kind of pool alarm for the gate, building doors or windows with access to the pool area, or the pool itself. State, county, and city laws, insurance companies, and homeowners associations often have specific standards regarding fence height, material, spacing, gate specifications, and more. Many insurance companies won’t even insure you without a fence! Whatever the legal requirements, the fence and gate should keep unsupervised children out of the pool area, since children are particularly susceptible to drowning in residential pools.
Remove Distractions – Remove any pool toys, floating devices, and other things that may pique the interest of children and ultimately lead to drownings or other accidents.
Supervision – Ensure that there is always some kind of adult supervision when children are in or near the pools. Much like public-use pools need lifeguards at all times, residential pool owners should not assume that even experienced swimmers will be okay. Never allow anyone to swim alone or unsupervised.
Phone / Communication – Another great way to reduce risk is to have a cellphone or landline close enough to the pool that if an emergency occurs, help can be called as quickly as possible.
Safety Devices – In addition to providing life jackets to inexperienced swimmers, pools should having a safety pole and other devices (ring buoy, first aid kit, etc.) to help struggling swimmers out of the pool. Built-in ladders can also reduce the likelihood of accident by providing an easier way out of the pool.
CPR – Take a class and become certified in CPR so that life-saving techniques can be used in case of emergency.
Pool Filters – Keep children away from pool filters or other parts of the pool where suction may entrap those who are unable to escape.
Non-Slick Surfaces – Installing non-slick surfaces can help prevent injuries from falls onto the pool deck or into the water.
Other obvious things pool owners can do include forbidding alcohol in or immediately around the pool, prohibiting swimming during rain/thunderstorms, keeping electrical devices away from the pool, and avoiding swimming after eating or when feeling fatigued.
How can Public Pools Reduce Risk?
In many ways, public-use pools are similar to residential pools. We outline some additional ways that pools open to the public can mitigate are briefly outlined below along with public use-specific ways as well.
Waivers – Technically, public-use pools usually aren’t required to make patrons sign a waiver, but it is not uncommon for swimmers to have to fill one out before using a pool. Sometimes waivers are only required if the facility features slides, diving boards, or other attractions are part of the facility. Residential owners could also use a waiver if they feel that doing so would mitigate liability.
Lifeguard – Surprisingly, some states do not require all public-use pools to have lifeguards on duty at all times. In some cases, whether a lifeguard is required depends on if the pool is administered by public funds or charges patrons directly. Alternatively, som laws state that if no lifeguard is on duty, warning signs and other safety devices (swimming pool pole of “x” length, etc.) must be present. (More on lifeguard signs in the section on state-by-state signage requirements below.) That said,most states do require that public pools have lifeguards on duty at all times to ensure swimmer safety.
Fencing – In almost all cases, public-use pools are required to have some kind of fencing around the pool. States, cities, and counties usually specify exactly what is required of these fences in terms of material, spacing, gates, locks, and more.
Swimming Ages and Pool Hours– Many states require public pools to post the ages at which children can swim without adult supervision. Likewise, public pools often must clearly state operating hours of the pool. These requirements vary state-by-state, as detailed below.
Other safety considerations for public pools include maintaining the proper swimmer-lifeguard ratio, keeping emergency communication devices near the pool, and first aid kits and safety devices, properly trained and certified staff, etc. As with residential pools, safety precautions such as those described above may not completely eliminate the liability of the pool. They will, however, help prevent accidents, provide evidence that the pool has done everything in its power to reduce dangers to patrons, and encourage insurance companies to extend coverage.
Recreational Water Illness & Chemical Injuries
Another concern for both public and private swimming pools is the spread of illnesses through pool water. These are commonly referred to as “recreational water illnesses” (RWIs) and often result in ear, eye, gastrointestinal and/or respiratory illnesses due to contact with the water. Pool owners and operators need to ensure that proper chlorine and pH levels are maintained at the pool. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has resources to help pool owners with RWIs. Careful usage of the chemicals used during maintenance is a must for both residential and commercial pool owners.
Additionally, required pool signs (detailed at length in the state-by-state guide to pool sign laws) that provide information such as pool safety and sanitation rules, diving warnings, occupant capacity, emergency number listings, shutoff switch labels, restricted areas, etc. can also promote safety and reduce liability. If you already know what signs you need, go to our pool sign gallery to find customizable sign templates or start from scratch to create your personalized pool signage. Otherwise, read about your state signage requirements below to see what signs your pool needs.
Pool fences are an important way to decrease the likelihood of child drownings and reduce the potential for liability in accidents that stem from unauthorized pool use. Pool fencing standards are often adopted by states, counties, and municipalities and vary significantly in strength and scope. Depending on location and pool type, regulations for pool barriers are often found in statutory codes, administrative codes, building codes, and zoning ordinances. Residential pool fencing specifications, for example, are frequently located in state and local building codes. These codes often draw heavily on a set of standardized international construction codes, specifically the International Residential Code and the International Building Code. Appendix G of the International Residential Code and Section 3109 of the International Building Code (essentially identical, with the exception of section headings) contain detailed requirements for pool barriers. While we outline specific requirements for all 50 states and some localities, we provide an extensive explanation of both Appendix G and Section 3109 at the end of this post as a point of reference. Read more here…
Original post here https://www.signs.com/blog/state-by-state-guide-to-pool-signage-and-fencing-requirements/.