PDF: Pool drownings
For many, it’s a rite of summer. Having access to a swimming pool means the kids can have some way to spend the long, lazy summers. Here in the South, having a place to take a cool dip can be a blissful way to escape our notoriously hot weather.
But despite all the poolside fun, there is a dark side. Every year, hundreds of children drown in swimming pools across the country, and thousands more are injured in pool-related accidents. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 346 kids under the age of 15 died in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available).
The agency notes that accidental drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children aged 1-4, and the second-leading cause among kids 5-14. For the years 2014 through 2016, an average of 5,900 kids 15 or younger were treated for non-fatal drownings at hospital emergency rooms — most were under 5 years of age. More than two-thirds of drowning fatalities are boys, and the vast majority (86 percent) of fatal pool drownings occurred at backyard or apartment-complex pools.
Although grim, that report contains some good news: The number of drowning deaths among kids has actually decreased since 2010. “Despite the positive decline in numbers, there are still far too many children who drown each year in pools and spas across the country,” said Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Swimming should be fun and a great way for families to be active, so long as everyone knows how to pool safely.” (That’s not a misprint; the commission has been using the word “pool” as a verb for the purposes of its campaign.)
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies have stepped up their efforts to make people more aware of the dangers of pool drownings, and it appears to be having an effect. The commission’s “Pool Safely” campaign helps educate the public about pool safety and features an online “Pool Safely” pledge to identify your awareness level.
“Pool Safely” was started to help meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Congress enacted the law after the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Graeme Baker (the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker), who died after being held underwater by a strong suction device at the bottom of a hot tub.
Kids can get into trouble in swimming pools in many ways. Even when there are lots of people around, a drowning can occur without notice in a noisy pool. Some drownings occur when kids accidently fall in after getting too close, and others happen when kids get into water that’s too deep, or get snagged by some obstruction. Tragically, some kids drown even when adults are nearby, or sneak into a pool unobserved. Swim lessons can help, but there is no replacement for constant (and undistracted) supervision by adults trained in lifesaving and CPR, as well as some common-sense safety features such as enclosing the pool area with a fence.
“As a mother, grandmother and registered nurse, I raised my kids, and now my grandkids, with a respect for water,” Buerkle noted. “Constant supervision, along with four-sided fencing, knowing how to perform CPR and teaching children how to swim are all important steps to continuing the decline in child drownings.”
Here are some other things to remember, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other sources. Visit www.poolsafely.gov for more information:
- Install a four-sided fence (at least 4 feet high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools and spas.
- Install alarms around the pool area. A gate alarm and floating alarms can let you know if a person or pet falls in.
- Don’t leave toys or flotation devices in the water. They can be an irresistible lure for children.
- Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children at all times around the water. This person should not be reading, texting, drinking alcohol, using a smartphone or be otherwise distracted.
- Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
- Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults.
- Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
- Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and, if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.