Pool Drowning Laws
There are laws in place, at the federal and state level, that intend to prevent wrongful injuries or death and to serve justice when either of those do occur. Utah code provides the “minimum standards for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of public pools” (R392-302-3) which does not include:
- private pools
- public pools built in accordance with the law during the time it was built (unless the executive director or the local health officer deems the pool unsafe)
- any body of water larger than 30,000 square feet
- pools designed for activities other than swimming, wading, bathing, diving, a water slide splash pool, or children’s water play activities
- float tanks
While it’s true that Utah law only sets specific guidelines for public pools, caution should be taken with privately owned pools, especially for those with children. Private pool owners who are neglectful of maintaining safety may be found liable for the injuries or death of a child on their properties through the attractive nuisance doctrine. To brush up on the recommended safety standards for privately owned pools, read Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Committee (CPSC) or visit our “Pool Drowning Resources” page. The rest of this article will focus on how Utah regulations relate to pool drownings.
Pool Shell Giving Swimmers a way to approximate a pool’s depth is an important step to reducing the risk of drowning. Because of this, the pool shell (or body of the pool) of a public pool must either be white or a light pastel color. In addition, pool shells must be made of materials that are “non-toxic to humans, impervious, and enduring over time.” Finally, the interior surface of a pool must be crack free and must be made of material that is easily cleaned, non-abrasive, slip resistant, and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) (R392-302-6).
Bather Load The bather load is legally defined as “the number of persons using a pool at any one time or a specified period of time” (R392-302-2). The limitations on a public pool are determined as follows:
- Spa pool: ten square feet per bather
- Indoor swimming pool: twenty-four square feet per bather
- Outdoor swimming pool: twenty square feet per bather
- Slide plunge pool: fifty square feet per bather
Floor Slope, Walls, and Diving In water that is less than 5 feet, the horizontal slope may not be steeper than 1 to 10 (horizontal to vertical feet). In water that is greater than 5 feet, the horizontal slope may not exceed a ratio of 1 to 3. Scuba diving training pools are an exception to both of these requirements (R392-302-9). Walls must be vertical and may not have ledges unless approved by the local health officer for a special purpose pool. Seats and benches are allowed, but must not be more than 20 inches below the waterline (R392-302-10). For diving, the depth of the pool area is determined by the height of the diving platform. The determined depths are listed in Section 6, Figure 1, and Table 2 of ANSI/NSPI-1, 2003. Starting platforms can only be used for competitive swimming or training purposes. When the Platform is not in use, it must be locked, covered, or otherwise barred from use. Areas of the pool that do not allow diving must have a sign with “NO DIVING” or the international no diving icon in four-inch lettering every 25 feet (R392-302-11).
Ladders, Recessed Steps, and Stairs Utah code states that “steps or ladders must be provided, and be located in the area of shallowest depth.” If a pool is over 30 feet wide it must have steps or ladders on both of the sidewalls of the pool. Steps and ladders must be located within 15 feet of the diving-area-end wall. All pools must have two means of entry and exit and, if any of the entries are steps, they must also have handrails. Recessed steps must also have handrails that reach over the edge of the deck (R392-302-12).
Decks and Walkways Utah code specifies that “A continuous, unobstructed deck at least 5 feet wide must extend completely around the pool.” The deck must be elevated from the water level at a maximum of 19 inches and a minimum of 4 inches. The deck is required to slope away from the pool towards drains that do not return to the pool water. Wooden decks are prohibited (R392-302-13).
Fencing All pools must have a fence of at least 6 feet surrounding the complete perimeter of the pool. Utah law specifies that this fence “may not permit a sphere greater than 4 inches” through any part of the fence. The door for the gate must be self-closing, self-latching, and require a key, electronic sensor, or combination to be opened (R392-302-14).
Safety Requirements and Lifesaving Equipment Every public pool must have at least one life-saving unit that is placed in an accessible and conspicuous area in addition to a first aid kit equipped with the items specified in Utah Code R392-302-22. Utah Code also states that “Lifeguard service must be provided at a public pool if direct fees are charged or public funds support the operation of the pool.” In all other circumstances where a lifeguard is not on duty, there must be a sign which states “WARNING – NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY / BATHERS SHOULD NOT SWIM ALONE / CHILDREN 14 AND UNDER SHOULD NOT USE POOL WITHOUT RESPONSIBLE ADULT SUPERVISION” in clearly legible letters that are at least 4 inches high. All lifeguard towers must provide a view of the pool bottom (R392-302-22 and R392-302-30).
Lighting, Ventilation, and Electrical Requirements A public pool may not be used during the night unless the local health officer grants an exemption. Swimming is permitted where the parts of the pool—including the deepest parts—and the deck are lit. All electric wiring “must conform with Article 680 of the National Fire Protection Association 70: National Electrical Code 2005 edition” (R392-302-23). To read more about pool drowning accidents, click here.
Learn your Rights. Get Answers. Free.