The summer season is a special one for families. Older children are out of school and younger children can enjoy being outdoors with their families. For many people, summer especially means swimming—in pools, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. Along with the special pleasures that summertime weather affords, however, comes an increased level of risk.
Every year, hundreds of children drown and thousands end up in hospital emergency rooms because of submersion in water. In fact, in California, Arizona, and Florida, where swimming pools are common, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age five.
A child can drown in as little as an inch of water and will lose consciousness after only two minutes underwater. Irreversible brain damage occurs within four to six minutes.
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One of the most unsettling statistics about child drownings is that nearly half of the drowning victims were last seen in the house before the accident happened, and almost a quarter of them were last seen on a porch, patio, or in the yard. Thus, almost 70% of all child drowning victims were not expected to be in or around the pool at the time of the accident.
Even more disturbingly, 77% of swimming pool accident victims had been missing for fewer than five minutes. So, by the time a parent notices that his or her child is missing, the child may have already drowned.
Parents should always keep in mind is that these drownings can occur in a matter of minutes. Since these drownings are often silent, not accompanied by splashing or screaming, parents are given no alarm that something is wrong.
The Hidden Danger at the Bottom of your Pool and Hot Tub
In addition to the threat of drowning by accidental submersion, entrapment in a pool or hot tub drain is another risk. Entrapment occurs when a child’s body becomes attached to a drain because of its powerful suctioning. Entrapment can also occur when a child’s bathing suit or hair becomes entangled in the drain or other underwater object, such as a ladder.
The danger of entrapment was given national attention in 2002 when former Secretary of State’s James Baker’s granddaughter, Graeme, drowned in a hot tub at a family friend’s graduation party. She was discovered almost immediately by her older sister and mother, but they couldn’t pull her to the surface. Finally two adult men were able to free her body by breaking the hot tub’s drain cover, but she had already drowned.
Seven-year-old Graeme was a strong swimmer who had been swimming unassisted since she was three years old and who was a member of a swimming and diving team. Nonetheless, she was unable to resist the powerful suction of the tub’s drain when it trapped her under the water.
Parents should also keep in mind that toddlers are at special risk for drowning and entrapment. Any parent can attest to the fact that toddlers are curious and impulsive, and they can vanish from sight in a matter of moments.
Safeguard your Pool and Spa Tub–What can Parents do to Prevent these Accidents?
A safety checklist developed by Safe Kids Worldwide (www.usa.safekids.org/water), and based partially on the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s reports on the subject, suggests the following:
Safety Checklist for Adults and Parents:
1. First and foremost, never take your eyes off your children. Someone should always be designated as a “water watcher.” Don’t depend on life guards.
2. While supervising, stay alert and avoid distractions like reading or talking on the phone.
3. Teach children to swim after age four.
4. Teach children to tread water, float, and get out of the pool.
5. Tell children to stay away from pool and spa tub drains.
6. Tie up long hair to prevent drain entanglement.
7. Don’t relay on water wings or other inflatables. If your child cannot swim, keep him within reach.
8. No diving in water less than nine feet deep.
9. If you find a loose, broken or missing drain cover, fix it or notify the owner/manager of the pool.
10. Keep gates to the pool area latched.
11. Learn infant and child CPR.
12. Know where to find and how to use lifesaving equipment at the pool.
Safety Checklist for Pool and Hot Tub Owners
1. Erect fencing at least five feet high on all sides of the pool.
2. Install self-closing, self-latching gates on your fence.
3. Use a lockable latch and keep the area locked when not in use.
4. Do not prop the gate open.
5. When hot tub is not in use, secure it with a locked cover.
6. Place alarms on doors and windows with access to pool and spa area.
7. Keep lifesaving equipment by the pool or tub.
1. Install anti-entrapment drain covers.
2. Equip the pump with a safety vacuum release system (SVRS), which is an emergency sensor that shuts off the suction automatically if the drain becomes blocked.
3. For new pools and tubs, install at least two drains or use a no-drain circulation system.
4. Replace drain covers immediately if they are broken or damaged.
Nancy Baker’s Message to Lawmakers, and How You Can Help
Beyond the kinds of actions you can take on your own, you may also wish to support legislation that seeks to improve pool and spa safety. Graeme Baker’s mother, Nancy, is now lobbying Congress to ensure that mandatory standards replace the voluntary ones that were in place when her child died. She argues that these voluntary standards are haphazardly enforced and inconsistently communicated to pool and tub owners.
Nancy Baker and former Secretary of State James Baker are supporting legislation proposed by U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman (D-FL) which would provide incentive grants to those states that make the use of pool and spa safety devices mandatory. Currently only four states have laws requiring barriers around pool areas. It is notable that no state has a comprehensive set of safety laws that incorporate barrier requirements and safety devices.
Please contact your Congressional representatives if you wish to support this effort.
But most of all, keep a close watch on your children this summer, and make sure that the season of laughter and play stays that way.
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