It’s summertime and the pools are open! Well, at least YOUR pool is open, and all the neighbors want to come to your house and swim. But, how do you make sure you are keeping your family and friends safe? According to the CDC, the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4 is drowning, and 25% of these little ones drown in home pools. Drowning is also the second leading cause of unintentional death for kids ages 5-9 (the first is motor vehicle accidents). This equates to about 700 children a year dying, and approximately 6000 children in the ER with non-fatal injuries. And this doesn’t even take into account children on the spectrum, who are 160 times more likely to drown.
To make matters more depressing, it’s not just kids and it’s not just pools. According to the Red Cross, approximately 54% of all Americans either can’t swim or don’t have the basic swimming survival skills, which are the ability to jump into water over their heads, take a breath, tread water or float for one minute, swim one length, and get out of the pool without a ladder. This means the adults at your home are also in danger, especially if they don’t know how to swim and/or drinking is involved. And everyone without a pool–you’re not off the hook. Infants and toddlers can also drown in bathtubs, bath seats, buckets, wells, cisterns, septic tanks, decorative ponds, and toilets. Children can drown in as little as an inch of water. Almost 70% of kids who drowned were not expected to be in or around a body of water. Make sure that if your child is missing, you always check the water first!
With all this bleak information, you might feel like, “why bother?”, but there are many preventative measures you can take to keep everyone protected. The two, single, most important things you can do is to have a designated water watcher and to have physical barriers surrounding the pool that prevent unintended use.
A designated water watcher doesn’t necessarily have to be a lifeguard. It should be someone who is responsible, sober, and dedicated to undistracted watching. This means they are actively watching the pool, and not chatting with friends, reading, or playing on their cell phone. Besides just having a water watcher, all children who can’t swim should be within arm’s distance of an adult. Drowning is not like in the movies. There’s no screaming, no splashing, and no calling for help. So even though an adult might be right there, a child could easily go under without anyone noticing. Having the adult and having the water watcher provides layers of protection to help ensure this doesn’t happen.
Another layer of protection is physical barriers. The Red Cross highlights many physical safety measures to take to secure your pool. Your home pool, whether in ground or above ground, should be completely (all 4 sides) surrounded by isolated fencing. The pool should be separated from not only your backyard, but the house as well. All gates should be self-closing, self-latching, and out of reach of children. This alone reduces drowning risk by about 83%. For above ground pools, any access points, like ladders or steps, should be secured, locked, or removed after use.
The bottom line is drowning deaths are preventable. Once precautionary measures are in place, and you commit to teaching the entire family safe swimming practices, it will give you more peace of mind and make your home pool a more enjoyable place to entertain. Happy Swimming!