By Marcelle Dibrell
Everyone knows that water and electricity don’t mix. Yet with pools and spas, we place that lethal combination feet and often inches from each other. Pumps and electric heaters are stored near the pool. The light is enclosed within the pool itself.
And although it’s been a while since an electrical incident has been reported in any U.S. pools, it’s truly just a matter of time. Furthermore, the key word in the previous sentence is “reported.”
That’s because many drownings that occur in swimming pools and spas are actually electric shock drownings.
According to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association, electric shock drowning (ESD) is the result of the passage of a typically low level AC current through the body with sufficient force to cause skeletal muscular paralysis, rendering the victim unable to help himself / herself, while immersed in fresh water, eventually resulting in drowning. Higher levels of AC current in the water will also result in electrocution. Electric shock drowning has become the catchall phrase that encompasses all in-water shock casualties and fatalities.
Although the majority of electric shock drownings occur in docks and marinas, a number of them also occur in swimming pools and spas.
Electric shock drowning has been called a silent killer.
There is no visible warning or way to tell if water is energized. In many circumstances, victims do not immediately feel electrical current when they enter or swim in the water, thus giving the victims the false impression that it is “safe” to swim. In the typical scenario, the victim’s muscles become paralyzed by the electrical current, he or she is unable to swim, and ultimately drowns. Unless there is a witness nearby to experience and report the sensation of electric shock in the water, the victim’s death is typically labeled a common drowning. In the vast majority of electric shock drownings, the victim’s autopsy shows no signs of electrical injury, and investigators often never learn that electricity was the cause.
Until very recently, there has been little public awareness about the danger of electric shock drowning. As a result, electric shock drowning continues to kill, and new families are devastated on a yearly basis with little public awareness.
Because of these facts, there is little data to support the relative incidence of it.
Captain David Rifkin, with Quality Marine Services, LLC, in Jacksonville, Florida, keeps one of the only lists of electric shock drowning incidents. The following are among the more recent: Aug 30, 2020 Harris County, TX. A teenager was killed by electricity in a hotel pool that was not permitted to be open. Light fixture wires were exposed, and the teen allegedly came in contact with them. The pool failed several inspections prior in an attempt to open.
July 19, 2019 Citrus Heights, CA. A 9-year-old girl was killed while swimming in a pool at her home. She grabbed a wire attached to one of the underwater pool lights that was under repair, Sacramento Metro Fire reported. Four other children in the pool were not injured.
May 19, 2017 Florence, AL. A man and his son were killed in a swimming pool. The man was cleaning his pool and his son found him submerged and jumped in to rescue. The son was also overcome by electric shock and later died. The wife was also injured by electric shock trying to help the son. Exact cause is unknown.
2016 was a particularly bad year: Six separate electric shock drowning incidents that resulted in deaths, with 4 additional injuries.
In this special issue of Service Industry News, we’ll take a closer look at some of the important elements of electrical safety and what you can do to help keep pools safe.