Color Me Safe at the Pool

It’s time to dig out the swim suits, sunscreen and beach towels and head to the pool. Swimming lessons, swim team, frolicking in the pool with friends, lap swimming and leisurely poolside chats are hallmarks of summer for families all over the country. As this fun season begins, we have some safety tips to offer.

Make sure your children have adult supervision while they are in the water.

One of 12 coloring images in CDC’s free, downloadable “Color Me Safe” coloring book, designed to raise awareness of safety issues.
This is one of 12 coloring images in CDC’s free, downloadable “Color Me Safe” coloring book, designed to raise awareness of safety issues. Spanish version

Children ages one to four have the highest drowning rates of all age groups, according to a May 17 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For every child who drowns, another four received emergency care for injuries.

In addition to supervision, adults should learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and avoid drinking alcohol while supervising children.

Most drowning of young children occur in backyard pools. To help prevent accidental drowning in these settings, install a four-sided pool fence of at least four feet in height to completely separate the pool area of the backyard. Don’t leave toys in or around the pool. Also, formal swimming lessons can help keep children safe in the water. The CDC website has more information on drowning prevention.

Use sunscreen at the pool.

CDC recommends sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, and after you swim or sweat. Finally, check the expiration date on your sunscreen and keep in mind that high temperatures can degrade sunscreen before its expiration date.

Use pool test strips to check for adequate pool chemistry.

A 2008 CDC pool inspection survey conducted in 13 states found about one in eight public pools were closed immediately after inspection due to serious code violations (reported in 2010). Disinfection violations were most common in kiddie and wading pools and water play areas. Improperly maintained pools put swimmers at risk for diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and skin infections. CDC encourages families to take matters into their own hands and pack easy-to-use pool test strips when they take off for the pool. The strips can be used to check that pH and chlorine levels are in the appropriate range. This summer the Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test strips online at If levels are unsatisfactory, CDC recommends notifying the pool manager; if readings remain unsatisfactory, consult your local health department.

Here’s to a safe and healthy summer swim season!

Joan Rose, PhD, is the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and a member of the Water Quality and Health Council.