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Fatal child drownings steadily rising, CPSC report says

Swimming Pool With FenceContinued vigilance in combating child drownings, especially since many families will be spending more time at home this summer due to covid-19, is needed, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Child drownings continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4 years old.

There were, on average, 379 reported pool-or spa-related fatal drownings per year for 2015 through 2017, involving children younger than 15 years old. Annual fatal drowning rates increased gradually between 2015 and 2017, with a spike of 395 reported fatalities involving children younger than 15 years old in 2017. Residential locations, such as a child’s home, a family or friend’s house, or a neighbor’s residence, made up 71 percent of the reported fatal drowning incidents.

“Water safety vigilance remains as important as ever, especially in light of ongoing public health concerns and community restrictions related to covid-19,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “Our latest report confirms that most child drownings take place at home during the summer months. This year, with more families spending time at home, the delayed opening of many public pools, and a pause on many traditional group swimming lessons, I urge everyone to take critical safety steps to reverse the upward trend in fatal child drownings.”

Children younger than 5 years old accounted for 75 percent of child drownings between 2015 and 2017, 56 percent of which were attributed to a gap in adult supervision. 

In addition to fatal drownings, data show that there were an estimated 6,700 pool-or-spa-related, hospital emergency department-treated, nonfatal child drowning injuries each year for 2017 through 2019. This about 18 children every day. 

Parents and caregivers can follow Pool Safely’s steps to help prevent both fatal and nonfatal drownings and keep children safer around the water this season, and particularly during an extended time at home:

  • Never leave a child unattended in or near water, and always designate an adult Water Watcher. This person shouldn’t be reading, texting, using a smartphone, or be otherwise distracted. In addition to pools and spas, this warning includes bathtubs, buckets, decorative ponds, and fountains.
  • Install layers of protection, including a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate if you own a pool or spa.
  • Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults. Many communities offer online CPR training.
  • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes, and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and if you don’t know, ask your pool service provider about safer drain covers.
  • Visit the Pool Safely Kids’ Corner for virtual water safety games and activities. 
  • Take the Pool Safely Pledge as a family, and find water safety resources using the Pool Safely Safer Water Information Match or SWIM tool.

Health and safety information for visiting public pools during covid-19 are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here

In 2019, CPSC also released a report on suction entrapment incidents in swimming pools, spas, and whirlpool bathtubs. The key finding is that since the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act went into effect in December 2008, there have been zero reported fatalities involving a child being entrapped on a suction outlet cover in a public pool or spa.

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