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Summer’s here: It’s time to review safety steps for pools and spas to keep children safe

By Rita R. Robison

Drownings are the leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drowning GraphicThe U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is continuing its work to reduce drowning deaths by launching the third year of its Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives campaign.

This year, Pool Safely is focusing on those most at risk of drowning:

  • Children younger than 5 years old who make up nearly 75 percent of child drowning fatalities.
  • African American and Hispanic children between the ages of 5 and 14 who drown at higher rates than white children.

Data from USA Swimming shows that 70 percent of African American children and 62 percent of Hispanic children can’t swim, making them vulnerable to drowning.

"CPSC's Pool Safely campaign has worked to prevent countless drownings, and we will continue to work to save even more lives this year," Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the commission, said in a statement.

The commission recommends that parents and families build on their current safety systems at pools and spas by adopting additional water safety steps.

Adding as many proven water safety steps listed below as possible is the best way to assure a safe and fun experience, because you can never know which one might save a child’s life – until it does, the commission says in its safety fact sheet “Simple Steps Save Lives.”

Staying close, being alert, and watching children in and around the pool

  • Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water.
  • Teach children basic water safety tips.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Have a telephone close by when you or your family is using a pool or spa.
  • Look for a missing child first in the pool or spa.
  • Share safety instructions with family, friends, and neighbors.

Learning and practicing water safety skills

  • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
  • Learn to perform CPR on children and adults, and update those skills regularly.
  • Understand the basics of life saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency.

Having the appropriate equipment for your pool or spa

  • Install a four-foot or taller fence around the pool and spa and use self-closing and self-latching gates; ask your neighbors to do the same at their pools.
  • Install and use a lockable safety cover on your spa.
  • Install door alarms and always use them if your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing pools or spas.
  • Install pool and gate alarms to alert you when children go near the water.
  • Ensure any pool and spa you use has compliant drain covers, and ask your pool service provider if you don’t know.
  • Maintain pool and spa covers in good working order.
  • Consider using a surface wave or underwater alarm.

New statistics released by the commission on drownings include:

  • An annual average of 390 pool or spa-related drownings for children younger than 15 occurred from 2007 to 2009; about 75 percent or 293 of the reported fatalities involved children younger than 5.
  • An estimated annual average of 5,200 pool or spa-related emergency department-treated submersion injuries for children younger than 15, from 2009 to 2011; children younger than 5 represented 79 percent, or 4,108, of these injuries.
  • Children between the ages of 1 and 3 represented 66 percent of estimated injuries for 2009 through 2011 and 67 percent of the reported fatalities for 2007 through 2009 involving children younger than 15 years.
  • The majority of the estimated emergency department-treated submersion injuries for 2009 through 2011 and the reported fatalities for 2007 through 2009 were associated with pools.
  • About 51 percent of the estimated injuries for 2009 through 2011 and 73 percent of the fatalities for 2007 through 2009 involving children younger than 15 years old occurred at a residence.
  • Residential locations dominated incidents involving victims younger than 5 years of age, 54 percent for injuries and 85 percent for fatalities.
  • About 58 percent of fatalities, an annual average of 226, occurred in in-ground pools. Portable pools accounted for 10 percent of the reported fatalities, annual average of 40, to children younger than 15 years of age.
  • There were no reported entrapment fatalities for 2011. The commission received seven reports of entrapment injury incidents during 2011.
  • Copyright 2012, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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    I think one way to reduce the risk of drowning for small children is putting fences around the pool. Parents can't keep an eye on their children all the time so pool fences will help them avoid children to play near the pool area unattended.

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