southern california edison

Keeping pools free of hidden electrical hazards

Much like a game of F-I-S-H, swimming pool owners should perform a task that others should repeat.

But, unlike the handstand in the water that players attempt to avoid elimination in the swimming pool game, there’s no balancing act required to keep pools safe from hidden electrical hazards that could lead to shock injuries and even death this summer.

What is required is an annual inspection performed by a licensed electrician or pool contractor.

“Swimming pool, spa and hot tub inspections are especially important and should only be performed by licensed professionals,” said Andrew Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency at Southern California Edison. “Licensed professionals will ensure that life-saving devices are present and working and electrical systems are safely grounded and bonded.”

In fact, improper bonding followed by faulty or nonexistent ground fault circuit interrupters and improperly installed junction boxes, especially on older pools, are the electrical hazards that Rick English of English Pool Consulting sees most in a 43-year career as a licensed swimming pool contractor, builder and forensic consultant.

“Bonding would be the biggest issue because that’s the one that people don’t see,” said English, who serves Orange County and San Diego. “Bonding needs to be complete and is a big issue with older pools because people tend to move their equipment, move the junction boxes and convert from copper to plastic pipes.”

Qualified pool contractors like English will not only ensure proper bonding of existing systems, they will also assure that add-ons like metal handrails and the legs of slides are bonded too.

Bonding, however, isn’t the only thing that needs to be complete to avoid the serious injuries and more than 33 reported electrocutions that the Consumer Products Safety Commission says have occurred in pools and spas since 2002. Equally important and required by the National Electrical Code is that all electrical pool equipment — including underwater lights, pumps and heaters — and surrounding outlets and lighting have ground fault protection.

English rates life-saving ground fault circuit interrupters right there with bonding as most often needing repair, replacement or even installation in the first place, again, especially on older pools. And he calls proper grounding essential.

“There’s a saying that the pool is the best ground in the neighborhood,” said English. “So, if you have a pool and your neighbors don’t, all the electricity that goes down those grounding rods is going to end up in your pool, which is OK if everything is working properly and at the same voltage.”

Permanent or storable pools should never be built or set up underneath power lines. If this exists, there are clearance requirements and pool owners should consult SCE’s Local Planning at 800-655-4555 or their local inspection agency.

Electronic appliances and devices are also strongly discouraged around pools or any water and should be kept at least 20 to 30 feet away from the water’s edge.

“Swimming pool, hot tub and spa electrical injuries are 100% preventable,” said Martinez. “However, all electrical equipment must be installed, repaired and maintained by a licensed professional to achieve that prevention. We urge our customers to practice that prevention for a safe summer of water activities.”

Additional SCE pool, hot tub and spa safety tips include:

  • Downgrade 110-volt or higher pool lighting to 12-volt LED lighting to drastically reduce risk.
  • Never string lights above or near swimming pools.
  • Stay far away from power lines with high-powered water squirters.
  • Carry long-handled cleaning tools horizontally and stay at least 10 feet away from power lines.
  • If you feel a tingling sensation while in the water, exit as quickly as possible, avoiding metal ladders and rails.
  • Power switches should be labeled so they can be turned off quickly in an emergency.
  • Rescuers should not enter the water until power is turned off.

Also, to prevent electric shock drowning in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers, annual inspections are urged for boats, docks and marinas by American Boat and Yacht Council-certified marine electricians. This is in addition to the installation of ground fault circuit interrupters on all marinas and docks and equipment leakage circuit interrupters on all boats.

This article was written by Paul Netter, Energized by Edison writer.