Swimming Pool Electrical Safety: Why It is Always Essential

Annual inspections by licensed professionals and awareness are the best prevention for the hidden threats in and around pools, hot tubs and spas.

If, as the saying goes, swimming really is as easy as H2O, keeping your pool safe from hidden electrical hazards for swimmers and frolickers can be just as simple.

It starts with an annual electrical inspection of your pool and all its working parts to ensure that life-saving devices like ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and all grounding and bonding systems are working properly.

Those inspections are even more relevant with pool, hot tub and spa owners and their families at home to potentially use them more because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they do come with a caveat.

“Electrical inspections of pools, hot tubs and spas should only be done by a licensed electrician or pool contractor,” said Andrew Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency at Southern California Edison. “They should never be done by unlicensed cleaning crews or the pool owners themselves.”

Only licensed electricians and pool contractors should be called on for inspections that could lead to the replacement or upgrading of electrical equipment.
Only licensed electricians and pool contractors should be called on for inspections that could lead to the replacement or upgrading of electrical equipment.

Qualified electricians and pool contractors will inspect and, where needed, replace or upgrade electrical devices and equipment to keep your pool safe from electricity and prevent serious injuries and the 33 reported electrocutions that the Consumer Product Safety Commission says have occurred in pools and spas since 2002.

With swimming pools and hot tubs bringing water and electricity close together, licensed professionals can tackle three of the biggest threats, especially in older pools, to the safety of their occupants — faulty underwater lighting, faulty or nonexistent GFCIs and damaged wiring.

Underwater lighting that flickers, buzzes or has collected mold and rust are as problematic as aging or corroded wires and a power system that is not well-grounded. These risks are only heightened if lighting and circuits aren’t protected by working GFCIs, which should also be on pumps and heaters and all outlets within 20 feet of the water’s edge to protect people from shocks.

Hidden Electrical Hazards Exist in Lakes, Rivers and Ponds Too

Freshwater lakes, rivers and ponds have their own invisible electrical hazard known as electric shock drowning.

The hazard is leaking electric current from boats, docks and marinas and the drownings largely occur in freshwater because the body conducts electricity better in low-conductivity, high-resistance freshwater than in high-conductivity and low-resistance salt water — meaning, in freshwater, the body transmits electricity better than the water itself.

When the current passes through the body, it can cause paralysis that results in drowning. There are few reliable statistics for electric shock drownings but at least 98 have been reported since 1986, according to the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association.

To prevent this freshwater phenomenon, safety experts recommend annual inspections of docks, marinas and boats by American Boat and Yacht Council-certified marine electricians as well as the installation of ground fault circuit interrupters on all marinas and docks and equipment leakage circuit interrupters on all boats. Both devices are designed and equipped to safely keep electricity out of the water.

Thus, they also protect swimmers, who should still always swim with caution around docks and marinas equipped with electricity as well as running boats because of faulty or nonexistent circuit interrupters.

And, if you suspect an electric shock drowning is taking place, never enter the water. Instead, turn off all power, throw a life ring and call 911.

~ By Paul Netter

“Licensed electricians and pool contractors will not only ensure your equipment, also including junction boxes, are properly and safely installed,” said Martinez. “They will make upgrades to comply with applicable local codes and the National Electrical Code.”

As for other hazards outside the water, permanent or storable pools should not 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 and spas and should be kept at least 20 to 30 feet away from the water’s edge

“Pool, hot tub and spa electrical accidents are 100% preventable with inspections by licensed professionals in addition to awareness by those enjoying them,” said Martinez. “We strongly encourage our customers to practice both to enjoy them safely this summer.”

Additional pool, hot tub and spa electrical 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.
  • 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.