According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates. And, behind motor vehicle crashes, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children between the ages of 1 and 14.
"On average, there are about 2-3 children who die in the United States from drowning per day, or close to 800 per year," said Dr. Jessilyn Humble, pediatrician at Ascension Via Christi Clinic in Pittsburg. "Additionally, about 5 times that many children per day are treated in the Emergency Room or hospital for submersion accidents.
"The most important way to prevent unintentional drowning is to be present with the child at all times when near water and don’t look away. Don’t get distracted by cell phones or electronics. Drowning can happen quickly and the child may not make a lot of noise or splash in the water, so it is very important that an adult is constantly monitoring them."
While these statistics are alarming, practical steps can be taken to help reduce the risk of drowning and help keep children safe in and around pools this summer. For example:
When not swimming:
- Use barriers. Barriers, such as pool fencing, can help 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) and standing at least 4 feet tall can help reduce a child’s risk of drowning by 83% as compared to three-sided property-line fencing. Having a self-closing and self-latching gate can serve as an added layer of protection.
- Use pool covers, alarms, and locks. Use pool covers that completely blanket the entire pool surface and do not allow space for a child to slip under or for water to accumulate on the surface. Use alarms to indicate whether someone is near the pool gate or swimming area. Exterior door alarms, door latches, window guards, doorknob covers cam also help to prevent children from entering the pool area unsupervised. Make sure members of the household remember to always close the door behind them.
- Remove all pool toys and empty wading pools when not in use. This can help to prevent children from being tempted to enter pool areas unsupervised.
When children are swimming:
- Keep a close eye. Provide close, constant, undistracted supervision in and around water. With toddlers, practice “touch” supervision —where you are within arm’s reach and close enough to touch them. While floatation devices can provide a sense of safety, they aren’t a substitute for adult supervision.
- Designate an adult to serve as a “water watcher.” No cell phone, no conversation, no alcohol. Commit to short shifts and rotate duties with another designated adult water watcher. It is also good to have an adult on-site who knows CPR.
- Start swimming lessons ASAP and as early as age 1. However, remember that even experienced swimmers still require safety precautions.