When it comes to swimming safely, Stephen Little has a lot to say.
And when it comes to swimming pool electrical safety, he has even more to say.
Little, who runs Poolwerx Palm Desert and is a strong advocate for safe swimming, said owners “are just absolutely stupefied by how dangerous pools are” when they discover the potential electrical hazards of not having annual inspections done by licensed professionals.
“I would say straight across the board that homeowners express a huge surprise because they can be complacent [about inspections],” said Little.
Avoiding this complacency is where electrical safety for pools, spas and hot tubs begins for Little in preventing the injuries and at least 21 electrocutions that the Consumer Product Safety Commission says have taken place in swimming pools since 2002.
“Annual inspections by licensed electricians or pool contractors are paramount when it comes to electrical safety in swimming pools,” said Paul Jeske, Southern California Edison’s director of Corporate Health and Safety. “Electrical inspections should never be done by pool owners or cleaning crews.”
Little, a state-licensed pool contractor for nearly 20 years, has inspected thousands of pools, particularly in the Coachella Valley, Redlands and San Bernardino, and says the biggest problems he sees are faulty — or even nonexistent — ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and unbonded equipment.
He stresses that inspections like those done by him and other licensed professionals are the best way to ensure “that all metallic components of the pool shell are bonded and grounded” and that pool owners have “working, operable GFCIs” that automatically shut off power when they detect an electrical issue.
And what is his response when no GFCIs — he recalls about two dozen instances — are present.
Potential pool, spa and hot tub electrical accidents are 100 percent preventable with annual inspections by a licensed electrician or pool contractor. We strongly urge our customers to have them done.
“We immediately disconnect the power to the pool lights and say either we have to fix or you have to hire a licensed person to fix it, but if I find it that way, I don’t leave it that way,” Little said.
As for those underwater pool lights that GFCIs actually protect swimmers from, Little has another strong recommendation, encouraging all pool owners with 110-volt or higher lights to downgrade to 12-volt lights “that will illuminate your pool just as good but dramatically reduce the potential hazards.”
Outside-the-pool hazards that Little, like all safety experts, strongly discourage are electronic appliances or devices around the pool. They believe only battery-operated devices should be used around a pool and, when that’s not possible, electronics should be kept 20 to 30 feet away from the water’s edge.
A recent trend that fits very much into that proximity-to-the-pool category is backyard string lights.
“I’ve seen an uptick in the string lights, where people take 110-volt lights and string them over the pool to create ambiance in their backyard,” said Little. “And I go, wow, that’s just an extension cord and if it breaks and falls into the pool, everybody in the pool is [at great risk].”
Little, a big proponent of safe swimming as the founder and chairman of Swim to Win and a trustee of USA Swimming Foundation, is encouraged by new laws regarding personal GFCI protection and the advent of low-voltage lights, but he and Jeske would be happiest with more annual pool inspections.
“Potential pool, spa and hot tub electrical accidents are 100 percent preventable with annual inspections by a licensed electrician or pool contractor,” said Jeske. “We strongly urge our customers to have them done.”
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