Safety watch: Installing water features

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Updated Apr 3, 2024

Water Feature SafetyThe accident: A 35-year-old male laborer was stacking stone along the landscaped edge of a residential swimming pool. He was working with one other person when he lost his balance, slipped on the wet tile and fell into the deep end of the pool. Neither the victim nor his co-worker knew how to swim. The co-worker tried to reach for the victim but failed. He then ran to the house for help. By the time rescue workers arrived and began resuscitation efforts, it was too late and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

What the expert says: Anytime you are working around water features the risk of falls, injuries or accidental drowning is increased. Robert Nonemaker, principal with OuterSpaces, a residential landscape company in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, says the accident might have been prevented if there had been clear communication between the workers and their employer.

Obvious red flags around this accident include the lack of supervision, no life-saving equipment near the water and the lack of swimming ability by both workers.

“Accidents are usually not the result of one misstep but a series of mistakes that accumulate and result in a major disaster such as the one suffered by this victim,” Nonemaker says.

Having two non-swimmers working alone near water was a tragic decision. Nonemaker says it would be a common assumption that the workers would know how to swim, but that’s not something you can take for granted.

Most waterscape work sites involve a variety of dangerous equipment, unstable ledges, electrical wiring, pumps, chemicals and other hazards.

“You have to be on top of your game around pool or pond construction,” says Nonemaker.

He also says empty pools and ponds pose dangers as well.

“Everyone on the site should be on the highest alert,” he says. “With some pools as deep as 8 feet, a fall into an empty pool can be as dangerous as a non-swimmer falling into water.” Extreme caution should be taken when working on the edges of any excavated area. “Safety is more important than productivity,” Nonemaker says. “You and your employer should be partners in safe practices. Always ask for instruction if there’s any doubt about proper safe operation.”

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