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Filtering by Tag: safety

Pool Safety

Julian Cofer

Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency-room treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida -- states in which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year. 

  • In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5. 
  • Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.  
  • Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.  
  • Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard.  
  • This means that 69% of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.  
  • Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.  
  • Seventy-seven percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged. 

Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive, and lack a realistic sense of danger. The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools is for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there is no substitute for diligent supervision.

Swimming Pool Barriers

A safe pool barrier prevents a child from getting over, under or through, and keeps the child from gaining access to the pool except when supervising adults are present.  A young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low, or if the barrier has handholds or footholds for a child to use for climbing. The top of a pool barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Eliminating handholds and footholds, and minimizing the size of openings in a barrier’s construction, can prevent inquisitive children from climbing pool barriers.

For a chain-link fence, the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4 inches square, unless slats fastened at the top or bottom of the fence are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.  For a fence made up of diagonal members (lattice work), the maximum opening in the lattice should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.

Above-ground pools should also have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool. 

To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other barrier, all openings should be small enough so that a 4-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the head- breadth and chest-depth of a young child. 

Gates

Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier, and by using self-closing and self-latching gates.  There are two kinds of gates that might be found on a residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool barrier. 

Pedestrian gates are the gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with a gate that restricts access to the pool. A locking device should be included in the gate's design. Gates should open out from the pool and should be self-closing and self-latching. If a gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely latched, a young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the pool area will at least close the gate and may actually engage the latch. When the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch. Also, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.

All doors of the home that provide direct access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm that sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more within seven seconds after the door is opened.  It should also be loud, at least 85 decibels, when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm. The alarm should have an automatic re-set feature. Because adults will want to pass through house doors in the pool barrier without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows adults to temporarily de-activate the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The de-activation switch could be a touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm. This height was determined based on the reaching ability of young children. 

Pool Alarms

A pool alarm is a safety feature designed to alert adults when unsupervised children enter a pool. There are a number of different designs available, but none is foolproof.   

Types

  • surface wave sensor:  This type of sensor floats on the water and incorporates an electrical circuit that includes two contacts. One of these contacts rests in the water while the other is adjusted to remain above the water's surface. When a surface wave touches the above-surface contact, the electrical circuit is completed, causing an alarm to sound. Sensitivity can be increased or decreased by moving the above-surface contact closer or further from the water surface. 
  • sub-surface disturbance sensor:  Mounted to the pool wall below the water surface, this type of sensors is activated by wave-induced pressure changes. One design relies on the movement of a magnetic float below a magnetic sensor, while another design relies on a pressure-sensitive switch.  Sub-surface alarms can also be used in conjunction with solar covers, whereas the surface wave-sensor alarms cannot.  
  • wristband:  This device is worn around the child’s wrist and it cannot be removed without a key. The alarm will activate when the wristband becomes wet, which creates opportunities for false alarms, such as when the child washes his or her hands, or walks in the rain. 

Since pool alarms are not foolproof and they rely on someone remembering to activate them, they should not be depended upon as a substitute for supervision, or for a barrier completely surrounding the pool. Pool alarms should also be used in conjunction with other types of alarms, such as gate alarms, perimeter alarms, and window and door alarms. Even some pet doors come equipped with alarms, owing to the recent attention given to the 100 or so documented accidents where a child escaped to a pool through a pet door. Pool alarms are thus one protective layer of many, none of which is sufficient as a sole preventative measure against child drowning. 

Hazards of Pool Drains

While drowning is a well-publicized danger associated with swimming pools, comparatively little has been reported about injuries and deaths caused by pool drains. Water rushing out of the drain creates a suction that can ensnare swimmers, usually small children, causing debilitating injuries and deaths. These drains come standard in swimming pools, hot tubs and wading pools, and while they appear harmless, inspectors and parents alike should understand how they could cause harm. 

Drain covers can break or be removed by people who are unaware of the possible repercussions. When this happens, a swimmer playing with the drain may become stuck to it in a way similar to how a vacuum will stick to the palm of the hand, but with much more force; 350 pounds of pressure is normal for a pool drain, and public pools are even more powerful. This “suction entrapment” can hold the bather in the drain's grasp until the person drowns or escapes, often seriously injured.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) distinguishes between five types of drain entrapment:

  • body entrapment, where a section of the torso becomes entrapped. The CPSC is aware of 74 cases of body entrapment, including 13 confirmed deaths, between January 1990 and August 2004. The deaths were the result of drowning after the body was held against the drain by the suction of the circulation pump; 
  • limb entrapment, where an arm or leg is pulled into an open drain pipe; 
  • hair entrapment or entanglement, where hair is pulled in and wrapped around the grate of the drain cover. The CPSC is aware of 43 incidents of hair entrapment or entanglement in pools, spas and hot tubs between January 1990 and August 2004. Twelve of the incidents resulted in drowning deaths; 
  • mechanical entrapment, where jewelry or part of the swimmer’s clothing gets caught in the drain or grate; and
  • evisceration, where the victim’s buttocks come into contact with the pool suction outlet and he or she is disemboweled. While these accidents are rare, they result in lifelong impairment. 

Here are some ways that pool drains can be made safer:

  • Make sure the drain cover is present and firmly attached. If the drain cover is missing or damaged, no one should be allowed to enter the pool, and a professional should be contacted immediately. The CPSC requires anti-entrapment drain covers to be installed in all public pools, as of December 2008. 
  • Make sure there is a safety snap fitting serving the ground pool cleaner. These devices automatically suck away dirt and leaves, but if they become disconnected from the suction fitting at the pool wall, a hazardous situation can develop. A safety snap fitting is a spring-loaded stopper that will end any suction through the port if any disconnection occurs. 
  • Check to see if there is a safety vacuum-release system. This device will cause the drainage to automatically cease if any entrapment occurs.
  • Check for anti-entanglement drain covers. These are a type of fitting that is molded in a particular way so as to prevent hair entanglement. 
  • Use no drains at all. Gutters and overflows can be used to provide water to the pump without the need for a drain.
  • Install an additional drain. According to the CPSC, “Providing multiple outlets from the pool to the suction-side of the pump allows flow to continue to the pump, and reduces the likelihood of an entrapping suction being generated when a body blocks one of the outlets.”

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance  inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

Extreme Home Safety: Panic Rooms & Bump Keys

Julian Cofer

Safe Rooms

A safe room, also known as a panic room, is a fortified room that is installed in a private residence or business to provide a safe hiding place in the event of an emergency. 

Some Facts

  • In Mexico, where kidnappings are relatively common, some people use safe rooms as an alternative (or a supplement) to bodyguards. 
  • In Israel, bullet- and fire-resistant security rooms have been mandated for all new construction since 1992. 
  • Since the 1980's, every U.S. embassy has had a safe room with bullet-resistant glass. 
  • Perhaps the largest safe room will belong to the Sultan of Brunei. The planned 100,000-square foot room will be installed beneath his 1,788-room, 2,152,782-square foot residence.   

Why are safe rooms used?  Reasons include:

  • to hide from burglars. The protection of a safe room will afford residents extra time to contact police; 
  • to hide from would-be kidnappers. Many professional athletes, actors and politicians install safe rooms in their houses; 
  • protection against natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Underground tornado bunkers are common in certain tornado-prone regions of the United States; 
  • protection against a nuclear attack. While structures near the blast may be incinerated, those far away may be shielded from radioactive fallout. This type of safe room, known as a fallout shelter and typically located outside the home, was more common during the Cold War than it is today; and
  • to provide a temporary refuge in the event of a serious disease outbreak.

Safe rooms have become a status symbol in wealthy areas such as Bel Air and Manhattan, where it is believed there are thousands of such rooms. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of safe rooms because many homeowners will not publicize their existence in their own homes. Even real estate agents tend to hide the location of safe rooms, or even the fact that a house contains one, until they know a buyer is serious about purchasing the house. 

Design

Safe-room designs vary with budget and intended use. Even a closet can be converted into a rudimentary safe room, although it should have a solid-core door with a deadbolt lock. High-end custom models costing hundreds of thousands of dollars boast thick steel walls, video banks, computers, air-cleaning systems, bulletproof Kevlar®, and protection against bacterial and chemical infiltration. Recommendations for specific design elements are as follows:

  • doors:  These are one of the most critical components of the safe room design. A bullet-resistant door with internal steel framing can weigh several hundred pounds, yet it must operate smoothly, easily, and without fail in an emergency. The hardware must be selected to provide substantial, secure locking without compromising the smooth operation of the door itself. Most importantly, it must allow the door to be secured quickly, preferably from a single control point. The hardware should not be capable of being overridden or tampered with from the outside. 
  • floors:  Concrete is an adequate material for the floor. In other forms of floor construction, such as wood, it is important to provide supplementary protection suitable to the anticipated type of emergency. As safe room construction often uses heavy materials, it is important to ensure that the floor can support a large load. 
  • sound insulation:  The attackers may try to verbally coerce the occupants to leave the safe room. Effective sound insulation will limit the ability for such unwanted communication. Also, sound insulation will prevent the intruders from hearing phone conversations between the occupant and police. 
  • walls and ceilings:  Wall construction that spans from floor to ceiling is generally preferred because of the structural continuity of the framing. Bricks and blocks, while bullet-resistant, can become dislodged from repeated sledgehammer battering. Steel stud walls, braced with additional reinforcing ties, can be faced with steel sheet or bullet-resistant materials, such as Kevlar®. These, in turn, may be covered with tile, Sheetrock or other decorative finishes. Steel and Kevlar® panels are available in large sheet sizes.  This helps minimize the number of joints that can be potential weak points of an assembly. It is important to not overlook penetrations that may be made for light fixtures, power points or plumbing pipes. Duct work that passes through protected walls should also be carefully considered to ensure that the security is not breached or they are not used to transfer poisonous gasses into the safe room. 
  • cameras and monitors:  Concealed cameras located outside the room enable its occupant to secretly monitor the movement and numbers of intruders. Effective camera systems may incorporate one visible camera outside the room so that an intruder disabling the exposed camera may not think to look for hidden cameras. 
  • generator:  A self-contained power system is standard in most high-end safe rooms.
  • Items to keep in a safe room:
  • bottled water and non-perishable foods:  There should be a small provision of bottled water and non-perishable foods (such as trail mix); 
  • communication devices:  Ideally, all three of the following devices should be stored in the safe room; 
  • a cell phone and charger, which are convenient, but they may not operate through thick safe room walls. The charger will not work if no electrical receptacles are installed, so those are required, too; 
  • a land-line phone:  Since cell phones may not work in a safe room, or because they may lose power, a land-line phone is recommended. It should, however, be on a separate line from the rest of the house so that intruders are less likely to disable it; 
  • a two-way radio;
  • blankets:  Occupants might be there for a while; 
  • first aid kit:  Even if occupants make it to the safe room, they may have been injured by the intruder en route. It is unlikely that he will allow the occupants to re-enter the room after they leave it to look for band-aids; 
  • prescription medication:  Small quantities of necessary medications should be stored in the safe room, or else occupants may be forced to surrender their position during a medical emergency. Having a hundred cans of tuna and a flat-screen TV does little good if your only asthma inhaler is left on the kitchen table; 
  • flashlights:  Severe weather can knock out electricity to the house, or intruders may intentionally cut the power; 
  • sanitation supplies:  Safe rooms built on a budget often don't have a toilet. A bucket can be used as a low-cost alternative; 
  • weapons:  If the intruders manage to enter the safe room, occupants should be prepared to defend themselves. Pepper spray is a common choice, and firearms are certainly no less effective; and
  • gas masks, which may become necessary in the event that the intruders force poisonous gas into the safe room. Where an odorless gas might be used, an electronic device may be installed to detect any noxious fumes or poisons. 

Bump Keys

Most people think that a locked door affords them security, but to anyone who knows how to use a bump key, a door lock is just a minor inconvenience.

Bump keys are keys cut to a special design that will allow them to be used for picking pin-tumbler locks. Pin-tumbler locks are the world's most popular lock, and these include exterior door entry locks for homes. The process of gaining entry using a bump key is called “bumping,” and it can be very effective.

All the cuts on a bump key are made to the maximum depth, so any key blank can be made into a bump key. Bump keys are manufacturer-specific.  A Kwikset® lock requires a bump key made from a Kwikset® key.  The same is true for other lock brands.  So, a full set of bump keys would include one for each of the major lockset manufacturers.

How Do They Work?

Keys operate by aligning tiny spring-loaded pins inside the lock. Once the pins are correctly aligned, the cylinder will turn and the lock can be operated.

To use a bump key, the "pull-back" method is common. With this method, the key is inserted all the way in, and then pulled back out one notch. While keeping rotational pressure on the key, it is then bumped into the keyway with the heel of the hand or with a device of some sort.  The "bumper" needs to bump the key hard enough to jar the pins, but not so much that the lock or key is damaged. Bumping the key causes the pins to jump slightly. Even this slight amount of motion is enough to allow the bump key to turn the cylinder, unlocking the lock.   

The success of the bumper depends on practice.  Very little skill is required, and the learning curve is short. Success will also vary with the type of lock and quality of the key. Keys made from soft metal won’t last long. Bumping tends to work better on more expensive locks, since the hard, high-quality parts work more smoothly.  Bump keys sometimes deform when they’re hit, causing them to jam in the keyway. They can be difficult to remove.

Can I Buy a Bump Key?

Owning or possessing a bump key is not currently illegal, and bump key sets, and videos on how to use them, are available online. To acquire a bump key, all that’s needed is the identification of the manufacturer of the lock.

How Can I Improve My Home's Security?

At least two companies, Schlage® and Baldwin, make locksets designed to defeat bump keys.  But many locks that use a key and the pin-tumbler system are vulnerable to bumping. No standards exist which demonstrate resistance to bumping. The resistance to bumping a deadbolt lockset varies with the manufacturer.  Electronic locks that have a key override are also vulnerable.

 Bump-proof locks are rare and expensive.  Bump-resistant locks are much more common.  Some (but not all) lockset manufacturers include bump-resistant features in their newer locks.  

 Without buying a new, bump-resistant lock, consumers have two options.  Usually, for less than $20, a locksmith can replace the original lock pins with "mushroom" pins, sometimes called spool pins, depending on the manufacturer.  While these pins will improve the resistance of the lock, they will not make it bump-proof.  Medeco® is a company that makes high-end locks.  They can provide bump-proof lock cylinders for which a duplicate key is available only through Medeco®-authorized dealers.  

 Although bump keys have been around for more than 50 years, their existence has become more widely-known with the advent of the Internet.  Consumers should be aware of this potential danger to their home's security. Taking extra safety precautions, such as installing an alarm system, can provide homeowners with enhanced protection of their property.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020