According to the CDC, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death for children from 1 to 4 years of age in the United States. Most of these deaths occur in pools, and one of the most significant risk factors, or causes, is missing or ineffective fences.
Massachusetts has strict laws regarding fencing and gates around swimming pools. For example, it requires fencing for all pools with a depth of 18 inches or greater, and gates with latches that self-lock automatically. Anyone found violating these laws faces liability if a tragedy occurs.
Swimming Pool Safety in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Different pools have slightly different requirements regarding safe operation in the Commonwealth. The definition of a pool is an artificial body of water more than 2 feet in depth, used primarily for swimming indoors or outdoors.
A residential or private pool is a pool used for swimming or wading that is owned and maintained by a person for personal use, their family's use, or guests visiting their household. A public pool is a pool used for swimming, wading or another unique purpose. The general public may use this pool and pay admission to do so.
A semi-public pool is a pool used for swimming, wading or another unique purpose in connection with, or on, the property of an apartment building, campground, condominium, country club, hotel, motel, trailer court, youth club, school or other establishment whose primary business purpose is not swimming. Admission to the pool is included with the fee for otherwise using the premises.
Residential Outdoor Pool Fence Requirements
Private or residential swimming pools must have fences made of chain link or an equivalent permanently erected around them. Homeowners must erect the fence no more than 30 days after the pool's installation. For outdoor in-ground pools constructed before October 2, 1975, a firmly secured fence enclosure should be at least 4 feet in height with no openings larger than 3 inches, with the exception of the entry gate.
For those constructed after October 2, 1975, the fence must be 6 feet high and firmly secured to the ground if any board or stockade structure is a maximum of five feet high – if it is over that height, the fence must be constructed from chain link.
Private or residential above-ground pools require a permanent, sturdy fence installed at the pool's top with a fold-up ladder that locks. Owners must secure ladders in the fold-up position when the pool is not in use. All pool fencing and gates may be subject to the approval of their municipality's building department.
Gate Requirements for Private Swimming Pools in Massachusetts
Any gate attached to a pool fence must self-close, meaning it should close automatically and without manual help any time it's opened. The gates must also have locks. Anytime the pool area isn't in use, the gate must be locked to help keep small children from crawling inside unattended.
If the pool's construction requires partial filling to settle surface materials such as vinyl lining, the owner must put up a temporary access fence. They can create this barrier from sturdy, upright wire tightly attached to poles. Planters, pool pumps and other fixed objects that are big enough for children to climb on must be away from the outside of the fence and should not have any hand or footholds.
Requirements for Public and Semi-public Pools
Massachusetts also has strict laws for public and semi-public swimming pools. These in-ground swimming pools must have an enclosed fence, 6 feet high, secured to the ground, and made of chain link. Self-latching gate latches must be 4 feet from the ground, rendering them inaccessible for children under 8 years. There shall be no other opening wider than 3 inches anywhere else on the fence.
All public and semi-public pools shall have at least one rescue hook and life ring. Owners must drain and cover these pools within seven days of their closing. A municipality's building department will inspect public and semi-public pools annually. If an owner is in violation of these laws, they face fines of $1,000 for each violation.
Enclosure Requirements for Indoor Pools
Some private, semi-public and public residences have indoor pools, which also have safety requirements dictated by state law. Indoor pools must have a barrier that extends at least 4 feet high. The construction of the swimming pool enclosure should not permit any openings that are wider than 3 inches, with the exception of a door or gate.
As with outdoor pools, a door or gate to an indoor pool must self-close and have latches located 4 feet from the ground. If the indoor pool is public or semi-public, swimmers can access it only through the establishment's bathhouse facilities.
Portable Pools and Diving Board Requirements
Portable pools are inexpensive, easy to assemble and have become a popular way to enjoy the summer months. While these pools are relatively shallow, tragic accidents can still occur. Massachusetts holds portable pool structures to the same safety requirements as it does permanent pools. A portable pool owner may be held liable for any injury or fatality if they fail to take the necessary precautions.
Diving boards can also pose a risk of danger. It is up to the homeowner to be aware of how high a board can be from the water and how deep the water should be for someone diving (9 feet), as well as the regulations for guard and handrails. The homeowner's insurance policy may also have its own safety requirements.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.