by Rob Cox, May 13, 2012
I was driving through my neighborhood yesterday, and I noticed a nice pool fence surrounding a blue pool. I could see that the pool gate was left standing wide open. Two hours later, on my return trip, this pool still had an open gate. Shut the *!%#@!* Gate! *
Inspecting your pool fence and gates should be part of every spring pool opening, or something that is done regularly with intent and purpose.
Tragedy can strike with open fences or open doors leading out to the pool. There are too many recent stories (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) of small children drowning in their neighbor's pools - pools that were not protected by effective pool fences and proper gates; and this has me concerned.
Here's some tips to inspecting a pool fence for safety.
If your pool has a four-sided fence, independent of any structure, pat yourself on the back. Generally speaking, these are the safest pool fence types. Not all 4 sided fences are as safe as the newer model shown in the image above, however.
Self-Closing, Self-Latching. Gates often need periodic adjustment of the hinges and/or latch to make sure that it closes on it's own and that the latch catches securely. Magna Latch type hinges and latches are considered the safest, but if you have the old Bar & Sickle type of latch - these can be very effective, with just a little bit of annual adjustment.
Self-Closing - that means that the gate will swing shut behind you. If you have a gate that won't self-close - go to your local Home Store, and you will find a 8 or 12 inch spring that will solve the problem. Attach one end to the the fence post and the other end to the gate, and you will have a self-closing pool fence gate.
Another type of pool fence closing device is common on fence gates around the Williamsburg, Virginia area. I call it the Ball & Chain type of fence closer. A ball connected to a chain acts as a weight that pulls the gate closed. This can be an alternative to a side mounted spring to close your pool fence gates.
Self-Latching - is another issue. Many gates close by themselves but don't actually latch securely. Make sure to check both - it's not uncommon to need some slight adjustments or even repositioning of your latch and/or hinges, to keep the pool gates securely self-latching.
These are fences that are attached to the house on one side - with the house acting as the fourth side to the fence. This may do an effective job at keeping out the outside world, but it creates a big compromise for the safety of those within the house.
For 3-sided pool fences, inspect the 6 things listed above, but also pay particular attention to the doors that lead out to the pool. You may have more than one door leading to the pool - these should also be self-closing and self-latching. Automatic door closing devices are made for regular doors and for sliding glass doors.
Door alarms are required in many parts of the country on new pool construction. Keep these devices activated, and keep the battery fresh. Door alarms can be the saving grace for your children or children of visitors.
If you do have a 3-sided fence, consider an improvement by adding a small interior fence between the house and pool, or adding other barriers. Effective barriers need not always be a fence, but could be long benches, low shrubbery, or large planters that restrict and direct access, without blocking the view of the pool from the house. Not all interior pool fences are safe however. Some are just plain ridiculous.
Can you pick the unsafe secondary pool fence below?
They say good fences make good neighbors, they also make safe neighbors. A good pool fence is your best protection against a non-swimming child falling in the pool, whether or not the child lives in the house.
Keep your pool (and your neighborhood) safe by performing a pool fence and gate safety audit or inspection.
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* After taking the picture, I did shut the gate. Sure, I was trespassing - but it could save a life ~ If you see an open gate in your neighborhood - shut the gate, knock on the door ... do something!