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Electrical Safety

Every year people die by electrocution, and some of these incidents are associated with pools. In fact, In September 2016, a young girl working as a lifeguard at a swimming pool in North Carolina lost her life when she was electrocuted as she entered the water. So let’s talk a little bit about this, and how we might reduce the risk of electrical injury associated with pools.

 

Electrical energy acts a lot like other sources of energy in that it moves (flows) from one area to another when there is a “potential difference” in the voltage of those areas. Like a waterfall plummeting from a high point to a low point, so does electricity from a higher voltage (a live wire or battery terminal for example) to a lower voltage (ground).  

 

Electricity generally speaking, needs a “conductor” to move or "flow" through. This flow of electricity is expressed in terms of Amperes or Amps. Some things are better conductors than others. Copper, aluminum and gold are excellent conductors and pass electricity, while things like the human body are less apt as conductors, but can certainly still pass electricity. Other substances like some (but not all) polymers and glass are insulators. Still others are classified as semiconductors (like doped / contaminated silicon). Uncontaminated water is actually an insulator when pure (distilled), but becomes sort of a semiconductor most of the time. In pools, it is usually a pretty fair conductor having been “contaminated” with minerals, chlorine and sometimes salt. The human body is a mediocre conductor, but also a poor insulator. Being that we are largely made up of contaminated water, electricity from a source will pass through our bodies on the way to ground…the lower voltage. On the way through it can interfere with nerve impulses including those activating the heart, and cause damage, seizure or in the worst case death by cardiac arrest.

 

So how can we make the seemingly unsuitable bed partners of pools and electricity less…shocking?

 

BONDING AND GROUNDING

Bonding refers to bringing all of the conductors around the pool (the reinforcing steel, handrails, light fixtures, pump cases etc.) to the same electrical potential by connecting them all together with a conductor (a ground wire). This eliminates the possibility of any potential difference between these various items; whatever voltage one item is at, the same voltage will be seen at all of the other items. But bonding alone does not render the items safe. You can’t get a shock between one item and another, but what if a stray voltage is energizing the bonding wire to some higher voltage? Then any of the items could give you a shock if your body is grounded (for example, being barefoot on the deck). To ensure the items are a zero volts, the bonded items have to be grounded. This simply involves running a wire from the bonded loop to the ground lug in the distribution panel.

 

KEEP ELECTRICAL ITEMS AWAY FROM THE POOL

It is never a good idea to have an electrically powered item near a swimming pool. Things like radios, blenders (for those summer margaritas) if dropped into the pool, can electrically charge the water and potentially shock bathers. Even if the device is away from the pool on the deck somewhere, someone who has recently been in the pool could drip water into the device and create a conductive path with the water from the device, through them to ground…not fun!

 

USE GFCI DEVICES AND BREAKERS

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupting (GFCI) devices work by comparing the current flow in the hot (supply) wire to the current flow in the neutral (return to ground) wire. In any circuit, the current flow should be the same in both ‘legs’.  If it isn’t, it means the current is going somewhere else - like through you! The GFCI device will trip to disconnect the power supply if there is a difference of 6mA (that’s 6/1000 Amps), and does so in a fraction of a second to protect us from being shocked. GFCI devices are a great way to protect people from any electrical device, but are particularly appropriate for things like underwater pool lights where electricity is so close to the water.

 

PERFORM REGULAR ELECTRICAL REVIEWS

It’s a fact of life on this planet of ours that things change, materials degrade, corrode, erode, oxidize and just plain wear out. Your electrical system is no exception. Electrical distribution boxes and the breakers within become corroded and fail. Plastic wire insulation dries out and cracks, ground points become corroded. Corrosion is exacerbated by exposure to salt water because of its electrolytic properties. Having a reputable electrical contractor visit the site periodically may flag some of these issues before they become a health and safety concern. In addition to a visual inspection, they can perform tests (like high voltage meggering) to assess the condition of various electrical insulators in the system.

 

Be safe, swim happy!

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Water Safety Tips

There is nothing more appealing than the thought of jumping into a swimming pool or lake on a hot summer’s day! There are so many benefits to swimming at any time of the year, but it particularly brings an extra layer of enjoyment on hot summer days. Along with talking about all the benefits of swimming, it's very important that we also discuss water safety.

 

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), drowning is a leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, and the highest rates are among children. Three children die every day from drowning, the leading cause of injury death among children aged 1–4 years. Drowning is not only a risk in swimming pools and lake’s, but it's important for people to understand that children are susceptible to drowning in as little as one inch of water.

 

The most important thing to understand about drowning is that it does not resemble what you see in the movies (arms flailing, splashing, or screaming). In reality, drowning is completely silent. The warning signs of drowning may include:

 

  • Someone who is drowning remains upright in the water and is not kicking and not able to wave or call for help
  • Someone may appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
  • Hair may be over their eyes and or forehead
  • Eyes are glassy and unable to focus
  • Head may be low in the water and tilted back with mouth open
  • Someone is looking towards the pool deck, sky, or shore and appear in shock
  • If a child goes silent something might be wrong

While these statistics are alarming there are a number of ways to prevent drowning.

 

LEARN LIFE SAVING SKILLS

Swimming lessons are very important and the first step to having safe water fun! Everyone should know the basics of swimming and take the extra step to be trained in CPR and First Aid. Many municipalities and YMCA’s offer swimming lessons at a very reasonable price. There are also many free or subsidized learn to swim programs that may be available in your area.

 

FENCE IT OFF 

If you have a backyard swimming pool it is recommended that you have a separate fence just for the pool area (separate from the house and other yard space). In some States this is a requirement for backyard pools, but even where it's not a requirement it's highly recommended. This prevents someone from accidently accessing the area when the pool is not in use. If a fence is not an option, there are other things available on the market, like alarms which can be installed on the doors going out to the swimming pool or on the pool itself.

 

MAKE LIFE JACKETS A MUST

Children, inexperienced swimmers and boaters should wear life jackets in and around bodies of water.

 

BE ON THE LOOK OUT

When kids or weak swimmers are in or near water, they should be closely supervised by a confident swimmer. Adults watching kids in or near water should avoid all distractions like reading, surfing the web, answering the phone, playing cards, and drinking alcohol. It is always wise to designate a “water watcher,” someone who is specifically responsible for watching the kids in the water.

 

Swimming is a fun and safe activity for all ages when everyone does their due diligence with these water safety practices! These tips are just a few of many to keep people safe during the summer season and while enjoying the water all year round!

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The Importance of Wearing a Life Jacket

While many Canadians are preparing for the Summer season and planning water related recreational activities, the warmer days also mark the beginning of a season known for water-related injuries and fatalities. As we prepare, it is important to educate ourselves, and our loved ones on water safety.

 

For many families, summer includes activities such as swimming and boating. But each year, Canadians fall victim to tragic water-related accidents ending in a fatality. A Canadian Red Cross report examining these fatalities revealed many common factors:

Children aged 1-4 and men 15-34 most at risk for water-related fatalities.

On average, there are 97 deaths a year from unexpected falls into water.

80% of fatalities involving children in backyard pools occurred when there was no adult supervision.

From 1991 to 2008, an average of 167 people died each year in boating mishaps. Of these, nine out of 10 were not wearing their life jackets, or were wearing them incorrectly.

 

FREQUENT MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT LIFE JACKETS

As noted by the Canada Safety Council

 

"I don't need a life jacket because I'm a strong swimmer."

Every year, even strong swimmers drown. Where swimming ability was recorded by coroners, almost half of those who died in fatal boating incidents were average to strong swimmers, according to the Canadian Red Cross. Even a confident swimmer can be quickly overwhelmed by factors such the weight of waterlogged clothing, the disorientation and panic of an unexpected plunge, exhaustion from swimming against a strong current, and the numbing effects of cold water.

 

"Only boating newbies need to wear life jackets."

Unfortunately, years of boating experience do not affect your ability to float. If anything, the more time you spend in a boat, the more likely you are to encounter unforeseen circumstances, and the greater benefit you will reap from a habit of properly wearing your life jacket. Of boating fatalities where boating experience was known, 66% were recorded as experienced boaters, and only 34% were occasional or inexperienced boaters.

 

"I only need my life jacket in bad weather."

Boating mishaps are actually more common when the weather is good and waters are calm. Survivors of near-drownings frequently recall how an otherwise unexceptional task or activity quickly went awry.

 

Sources:

Canada Safety Council

The Canadian Red Cross

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