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Basic Pool and Water Safety: Keeping Children Safe

Posted By Regan Zambri & Long || 22-May-2015

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer for many families around the country. Children everywhere are sure to start pestering their parents about trips to the beach or public pool. Swimming is a fantastic source of recreation and fitness for families everywhere, but it also comes with a significant degree of risk.

As we have blogged previously, drowning is one of the leading causes of injury or death among children under age-20 in the US. A 2010 update of a study from 2006 revealed that in 2006, "unintentional drowning claimed the lives of 1,077 US children and adolescents, a fatality rate of 1.32 per 100 000 population", with the highest rate of drowning affecting children in the "0 to 4-year age group (2.5 per 100,000)."

Even more dramatically, research published in 2012 by the New England Journal of Medicine found that "drowning is a leading cause of death worldwide among boys 5 to 14 years of age." These tragedies are not limited by location, and take place in above-ground pools, inflatable pools, beaches, and even pools staffed with certified lifeguards. Yet with simple precautions, and mindful parenting, these devastating statistics could be significantly reduced.

"Drowning is not generally associated with a complete lack of adult supervision but, rather, with a momentary lapse in supervision." In fact, in the same 2010 study, adults responding to a survey indicated that parents of children age 14 and younger "talk to others (38%), read (18%), eat (17%), and talk on the telephone (11%) while supervising their child near water." These statistics are especially relevant as the summer begins, as "during warm months, lapses in supervision were responsible for 62% of nonfatal cases."

As referenced in previous posts, and by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following guidelines should serve as best practices for all parents taking their children to swimming locations:

• "Parents and caregivers need to be advised that they should never - even for a moment - leave small children alone or in the care of another young child while in bathtubs, pools, spas, or wading pools or near irrigation ditches or other open standing water.
• Whenever infants and toddlers (or weak swimmers) are in or around water, be it a pool or an open body of water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be in the water, within an arm's length, providing “touch supervision.” Supervision needs to be close, constant, and capable.
• Parents, caregivers, and pool owners should learn CPR and keep a telephone and equipment approved by the US Coast Guard (e.g. life buoys, life jackets, and a reach tool such as a shepherd's crook) at poolside.
• Parents should be cautioned not to use air-filled swimming aids (such as inflatable arm bands) in place of PFDs (life jackets).
• All children should be required to wear an approved PFD whenever they are riding in watercraft. Small children and non-swimmers should use PFDs when they are at the water's edge, such as along a river bank of on a dock or pier.
• Parents and children need to understand that jumping or diving into water can result in injury.
• When selecting an open body of water in which their children will swim, parents should select sites with lifeguards. Even for the strongest of swimmers, it is important to consider weather, tides, waves, and water currents in selecting a safe location for recreational swimming.
• When swimming or taking a bath, children of any age with seizure disorders should be closely supervised by an adult at all times.
• Counseling parents and adolescents about water safety provides an opportunity to warn them about the increased drowning rates that result from impairment of a swimmer or watercraft occupant when alcohol or illicit drugs are used.”

Above ground or in-ground pools installed on personal property must be properly enclosed or fenced in. "Compared with no fencing, installation of 4-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the house and yard has been shown to decrease the number of pool-immersion injuries among young children by more than 50%." In the warm summer months "lack of a barrier and broken fences and gates were responsible for most (70%) of the deaths"

Listed below are other resources that are available that address water safety for children:

American Academy of Pediatrics - The Injury Prevention Program (TIPP) - materials for parents about home water hazards for children;
Safe Kids USA – information about pools and hot tubs, drain covers, SVRSs to prevent entrapment, safety checklists, links to national research study about pool safety;
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - water-related injuries fact sheet, CDC research and information on water safety and water-related illnesses and injuries;
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) - safety-barrier guidelines for home pools and brochure about preventing childhood drowning;
US Coast Guard – detailed information and tip sheets about vessel safety checks, approved on-line boating safety courses and other water safety issues.

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