Pond safety

Guidance for Foster Care Team & Foster Carers


Water holds a particular fascination for young children especially under the age of five. Whether the water is held in a garden pond, water feature, a rainwater butt, a paddling pool or a bucket, a young child will invariable investigate.

Due to this natural inquisitiveness, 111 children in England under the age of five drowned between 1993 and 2003¹, within the space of a few minutes of the supervising adult being momentarily distracted. It is therefore essential that steps are taken to remove the hazard where children can be found.

(¹ Data provided by RoSPA)

Even the shallowest pond can be lethal, as little as 100 mm of water. From a child’s perspective, a 500mm deep pond is equivalent to an adult falling into 1800mm of water, but the child would be unable to climb out.

Children aged between one and two are particularly at risk, with the risk decreasing as age increases. There are probably three reasons for this profile:

  1. Between the ages of one and two, an infant’s mobility increases at a terrific, but irregular rate, such that they can escape parent’s/carer’s supervision and get into difficulties unexpectedly quickly.
  2. Whilst mobility may increase, stability and co-ordination remain poor.
  3. It is not until the age of four or five that children begin to understand the concept of danger and begin to heed warnings given to them.

Risk Assessment

Both the Fostering Team and foster carers have a duty of care to the children for whom they are responsible. Prior to the child being placed with the foster carer, a member of the Fostering Team is required to carry out a risk assessment and implement reasonably practicable measures to ensure an acceptable level of safety. This should be done in consultation with the foster carer and on location where the child is being placed. When considering safety issues and in particularly the risk of drowning in a garden pond, water feature, etc. there are a number of factors to consider:

What are the hazards? – Mainly the water but also its interactions with features such as location of play areas, outdoor electrical equipment such as water pumps and surrounding shrubbery and vegetation.

Who might be harmed and how? – Young children, children with special needs, and teenagers (peer pressure often leads to risk taking). The prevention of slips, trips and falls should not be ignored as well as hygiene issues and the risk of disease and ill health.

Evaluate the level of risk – Decide whether existing precautions are sufficient or whether more can be done. Assess factors such as, function, location, depth, effects of weather and supervision.

Record findings – Details of the risk assessment and the control measures should be documented and the information shared with both staff members and the Foster Carers. It is recommended that an Emergency Plan be devised so that the Foster Carers know what to do in the event of an accident/emergency.

Monitor and review – The risk assessment and control measures should be monitored and reviewed on an annual basis or whenever there is a physical/material change to the pond and its surroundings. If necessary the risk assessment/control measures should be amended accordingly.

Risk Control

Every pond and every premise will be different, therefore overall guidance cannot be given and this is why individual site-based risk assessments are required. However in most cases the following will apply:

  • Access to the pond should be controlled and effectively closed when not in use. This should be done with fencing or for smaller ponds, steel rigid mesh fixed over the pond which is capable of supporting the weight of an adult.
  • Fencing should be a minimum of 1.1m high with either 100mm spaced vertical bars or steel mesh with an aperture of 25mm x 25mm.
  • Children should be supervised at all times when playing at or in the vicinity of the pond. (Inadequate supervision was found to be the most common factor associated with drowning and near-drowning)²
  • For ponds which are too deep for an adult to perform a wading rescue, suitable rescue equipment such as a reach pole or a throw line should be provided.
  • Adults acting in a supervisory capacity should be familiar with the emergency plan and should be trained to use rescue equipment if provided.

(² L. Quan, EJ Gore - Ten Year Study of Paediatric Drowning & Near-drowning – 1989)

General Advice

  • Foster Carers are advised to check the pond and garden regularly.
  • Containers holding rainwater should be emptied or sealed to prevent children gaining access.
  • Paddling pools should be emptied and turned upside down after use.
  • Whereever possible, garden ponds should be filled with sand, or earthed over, or filled in in some other way. If Foster Carers wish to retain a pond, then rigid mesh can be used to create a secure cover. The rigid steel mesh must be firmly secured and regularly checked for signs of deterioration.
  • Because of the wide variety of shapes and sizes of garden ponds, “off the shelf” covers do not exist. Security grille suppliers can however cut mesh to size on request. The mesh must be heavy duty, (8mm diameter wire), and have a grid size of no more than 80mm x 80mm, this would ensure against entrapment.
  • Depending on the size of the pond, a frame may be required to provide stability and anchor points. Any method used to lock and secure the frame in place should ensure that there is no risk of entrapment between any moving parts.
  • The cover should be left in place until the child can recognise and understand danger.
  • Fencing materials such as chicken wire are unsuitable as they will sag in the centre with a child’s weight. A number of tragic accidents have also occurred when children have managed to crawl beneath wire or pull wire aside. Drowning incidents have occurred in less than 300mm of water.
  • Fencing off the pond is only a partial solution and can often lead to a false sense of security – at three years of age many children can climb an unsuitable fence within 30 seconds.
  • Gates which provide access to the pond should be self-closing, have a child-proof open/close mechanism and have the facility to be locked shut.

Here is a checklist to assist with the risk assessment process. Although not an exhaustive list, it addresses some of the key issues which should be examined.

Pond Safety Risk Assessment Checklist





Can the pond be drained of water until the child understands the concept of danger?


Is the pond properly secure?


Has it been enclosed with a strong fence (1.1m minimum height)?


Are there any gaps in the fence through which a child could gain access?


Are there any trees or vegetation that would assist a child in climbing over the fence?


Is an access gate provided in the fencing?


Is the gate self-closing, child-proof opening mechanism and lockable?


Is the pond secured with rigid mesh?


Is this mesh secured in place and free from entrapment hazards?


Are there any trip hazards in the vicinity of the pond?


Are there any electrical hazards in the vicinity of the pond?


Are there measures in place to ensure adequate supervision of children whilst in the vicinity of pond?


Has an emergency plan been devised in the event of an accident?


Is the pond shallow enough to rescue by wading?


Have you placed any rescue equipment near the pond (if pond is deeper than wading)?


Are there any other sources of water containers which pose a hazard?






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