Summertime means pool time.
Splashing around in the water provides a wonderful opportunity to stay cool and have fun … as long as everyone stays safe.
News reports of an Ohio lifeguard saving a toddler the first day on the job is a timely reminder of the importance of knowing and constantly practicing pool safety when you or someone near you is in or near a pool or other water.
Downing & Near Drowning Very Common
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data shows the importance of water safety and vigilance:
- Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.
- 10 people die from unintentional drowning every day on average.
- Children are particularly African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites. This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites. are children 14 and younger.
- For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
- More than 50% of drowning victims treated in emergency departments (EDs) require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6% for all unintentional injuries).
- Near drownings are a leading cause of permanent brain injury. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state).
While anyone in or around the water may get into trouble under the right circumstances, the victims overwhelmingly tend to be young children and are mostly males. According to the CDC:
- Children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2014, among children 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, one-third died from drowning, most of which occur in home swimming pools.
- Male and minorities have a higher likelihood of becoming victims. CDC statistics show:
- Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male; and
- African American children 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites. This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years where African Americans drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites.
Factors Influencing Drowning Risk
CDC data also reveals the main factors that affect drowning risk:
- Lack of swimming ability,
- Lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access,
- Lack of close supervision while swimming,
- Failure to wear life jackets,
- Alcohol use, and
- Seizure disorders.
Preventing Drowning Injuries
CDC data also provides helpful tips about steps people can take to reduce the risk of drowning or near drowning deaths and injuries including the following key safety measures:
- Close supervision and vigilance is critical whether or not an individual can swim. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water (such as bathtubs, swimming pools, buckets), and even in the presence of lifeguards.
- Swimming lessons are a key tool to reduce the risk of drowning in young children. The CDC reports participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.
- Barriers, such as pool fencing, prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. A four-sided isolation fence (separating the pool area from the house and yard) reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing.
CDC demonstrates that age or location may increase the need for added diligence and supervision. The data shows that people of different ages drown in different locations.
- Most children ages 1-4 drown in home swimming pools.
- The percentage of drownings in natural water settings, including lakes, rivers and oceans, increases with age.
- More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older (57% and 57% respectively) occurred in natural water settings.
- In 2010, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,604 boating incidents; 3,153 boaters were reported injured, and 672 died. Most (72%) boating deaths that occurred during 2010 were caused by drowning, with 88% of victims not wearing life jackets.
- For persons with seizure disorders, bathtub drowning is not uncommon. Drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.
The data also makes clear drinking and water sports are a dangerous cocktail. According to the CDC, among adolescents and adults:
- Alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation;
- Nearly 1/4 of emergency room visits for drowning; and
- About 1/5 of reported boating deaths.
Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat. Of course alcohol consumption by others around a swimmer who has been drinking undermine the awareness of those that would be available to rescue and impaired swimmer too.
The bottom line: Alcohol and water don’t mix.
Water Safety To-Do List
In light of the known risks, Americans, and their employers, health plans, health care providers, and communities should take steps to keep themselves and others safe while enjoying pools, lakes and other rivers this Summer.
Practice water safety and urge others to do the same by taking the following common sense steps:
- Supervise When in or Around Water
Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all people swimming or playing in or around water.
Supervisors of preschool and other young children should be close enough to reach the child at all times (@touch supervision”).
Because drowning occurs quickly and quietly, supervising adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as drinking, reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present.
Parents considering authorizing swimming field trips led by childcare providers or allowing their children to swim under the supervision of others should investigate the adequacy and training of staff to meet these guidelines.
- Use the Buddy System.
Always swim with a buddy.
Select swimming sites that have lifeguards when possible. When hosting a social or workplace event near or involving swimming or other water activities, consider hiring one or more lifeguards to monitor the activity and be prepared to respond in case of an emergency.
- Seizure Disorder Safety
If you, a worker or a family member has a seizure disorder, provide one-on-one supervision around water, including swimming pools. Consider taking showers rather than using a bath tub for bathing. Wear life jackets when boating.
- Learn to Swim & Make Sure Others In Or Near The Water Can Swim
Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, even when children have had formal swimming lessons, constant, careful supervision when children are in the water, and barriers, such as pool fencing to prevent unsupervised access, are still important.
- Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, CPR skills could save someone’s life. Many free or low-cost options for learning CPR are readily available from the American Red Cross and others. If you host people around your pool or other water related event, consider hosting a CPR training at one of your upcoming gatherings.
- Use Life Jackets, Not Air-Filled or Foam Toys.
Provide an wear Coast Guard approved life jackets in good condition as needed.
Don’t use air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings”, “noodles”, or inner-tubes, instead of life jackets. These toys are not life jackets and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
- Don’t Mix Water & Alcohol
Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children. Do not serve or control the consumption of alcohol by guests when hosting events involving boating, swimming or other water sports.
- Guard Against “Hypoxic Blackout”
Teach your children and don’t let swimmers hyperventilate before swimming underwater or try to hold their breath for long periods of time. This can cause them to pass out (sometimes called “hypoxic blackout” or “shallow water blackout”) and drown.
- Prevent Recreational Water Illnesses
Learn how to and act to prevent recreational water illnesses by following the CDC’s recommended 12 Steps for Prevention of Recreational Water Illnesses.
- Watch For Hazardous Weather And Conditions
Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.
- Practice and Maintain Home Pool Safety
If you have a swimming pool at home, consider the following special safeguards:
- Install a four-sided pool fence at least four feet high with that completely separates the pool area from the house and yard. The fence should be at least 4 feet high with self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches out of reach of children. Also consider additional barriers such as automatic door locks and alarms to prevent access or alert you if someone enters the pool area.
- Remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children are not tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
- Stay vigilant at all times. Supervise your family and guests. Require adult guests to provide touch supervision for their children in the pool. Hire a lifeguard during parties or at other times when your ability to provide touch supervision isn’t sufficient.
- Don’t swim or allow others to swim after or while consuming alcohol.
Keep in mind that a drowning or near drowning of a family member or guest in your pool presents both a substantial legal exposure as well as risks an irreversible personally devastating experience for all involved. Don’t let fun get ahead of common sense or safety.
- Practice Natural Water Safety
If you are in and around natural water settings:
- Use U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets regardless of the distance to be traveled, the size of the boat, or the swimming ability of boaters.
- Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags. .
- Watch for dangerous waves and signs of rip currents such as water that is discolored choppy, foamy, or filled with debris and moving in a channel away from shore.
- If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward shore.
Also plan ahead and take some common sense steps to prepare for the possible need for a timely rescue before pushing off the boat from the shore or entering the water. Among other things:
- Let at least a couple people not participating know where you are, where you are going, what you plan to do and when you should be back or checkin;
- Confirm that at least one cellphone has service and keep it with you and working;
- Consider using the share my location or other feature on your cellphone or other device to help emergency or other rescue personnel find you in the event of an emergency;
- Discuss safety rules with all participants before getting started;and
- Enforce safety throughout the activity.
Remember and remind guests that a drowning or near drowning isn’t worth the risk.
- Be Prepared: Know CPR & Plan Ahead
Since seconds matter when a drowning or near drowning happens, be prepared for a possible emergency before anyone gets in the water. At minimum:
- Know CPR and encourage others to do the same;
- Prominently your address and keep a telephone available in your pool area; Drop a locator pin on your cell phone or otherwise take note of your location if you were on natural water.
Cooling off in the pool or lake can be a fun way to stay comfortable in the summer. Plan ahead and practice water safety as you and your friends enjoy the fun.