Dear Mr. Dad: My family loves being in the water, whether it’s a pool, a lake, the ocean, or even a bathtub! But every summer, sure as clockwork, stories of children drowning start popping up like mushrooms. It seems to me that drownings aren’t really any more common than they used to be—there’s just more media coverage. But the big issue is what we can do to be safe around the water?
A: You’re absolutely right: According to the U.S. Consumer Produce Safety Commission (CPSC), the number of drownings has stayed roughly consistent for the past few years. And media coverage of drownings tends to pick up in the summer—which, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. Roughly 350 children under 15 drown in pools and spas every year; three-quarters of those kids were under five. Every of those deaths is a tragedy—especially when you consider that most were preventable.
In addition, every year, about 5,000 children under 15 are involved in non-fatal “submersion injuries” (better known as “near-drownings“) that require emergency room treatment. Many result in permanent injury (including brain damage) and, again, most are preventable. Here are some guidelines (some provided by the CPSC) that will help keep your family safer this summer.
• Appoint a designated watcher—a responsible adult or teen—who will focus 100% on the people who are in or near the spa, pool, river, or other body of water. That means absolutely, positively NO reading, talking on the phone, playing games, chatting with friends, or anything else.
• Your designated watcher should pay particular attention to boys. Adults often play down boys’ roughhousing and excessive risk taking as “boys will be boys.” But the consequences of that lackadaisical attitude can be deadly. Boys are twice as likely as girls to drown in swimming pools. And African-American boys are 4 to 15 times more likely than White boys to drown in pools. Interestingly, girls are more likely than boys to drown in bathtubs, which is where 10% of drownings occur.
• Make sure that all pools and spas are surrounded by a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. This will keep younger kids from wandering into the pool area. Experts estimate that having four-sided fencing could prevent 50-90% of drownings and near-drownings.
• Pool covers can add an extra layer of safety, but be sure the cover complies with the highest safety standards and is strong enough for an adult to walk on.
• Empty toddler pools and store them upside down. Children can drown in as little as half an inch of water.
• Learn how to swim and teach your kids to swim.
• Take a CPR class that teaches how to perform this life-saving procedure on children and adults.
• Ensure that any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards. If you’re not sure, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.
• Teach children to stay away from drains, pipes, and other openings. Every year there are numerous “circulation entrapment” incidents, most of which involve an arm, leg, some other body part, or hair getting sucked into a drain or pipe or caught on a broken or missing cover. While most of these incidents aren’t fatal, they’re very scary and, as mentioned, usually preventable. One additional way to prevent them is to ensure that children with long hair wear a bathing cap or pin their hair up. Hair can get sucked into drains and drown a child faster than you might think.
• Take the CPSC’s pool safety pledge and urge everyone you’ll be swimming with to do the same. You’ll find the pledge at https://www.poolsafely.gov/pledge/
Previously published on Mr. Dad