How big is the problem?
According to the CDC1, there were 3.536 fatal unintentional drownings (not boat related) per year in the United States for the 10-year period 2005-2014. About 1 in 5 were pediatric patients age 14 years and younger. About 50% of these drownings required a hospitalization or transfer to long-term care for physical, occupational and speech therapies. Many had severe brain damage that resulted in long-term brain damage including memory problems, learning disabilities, or permanent loss of basic life functioning.
When we look at the pediatric population, there are 2 main spikes in incidence in drownings and fatalities: the 1-4 year old age group and the 15 year olds and older group. When you look at the 1-4 year old age group, about 1/3 of children who died from unintentional injury were from drowning, and the most common site of drowning was the home swimming pool.
In the 15 year old and older group, most drownings occur in natural water settings (lakes, rivers, oceans). Drowning fatalities are second to motor vehicle accidents fatalities in this population. Interesting enough, as a whole, 80% of those who die from drowning are male and commonly tied to high-risk behavior.
Alcohol use among adolescents and adults is responsible for about 70% of deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol impairs our ability to maintain balance, coordination and most important of all, our judgement.
So how do we make our environment safer and reduce the risk of drowning in our loved ones? The best way to do this is to have a layered approach where we have multiple steps in place to reduce the risk. From learning how to swim to having a fence around the pool, there are multiple steps we can take to make their lives safer. Here are some tips from American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website, healthychildren.org2 and from the AAP patient education handouts3.
Water Safety at Home
- Have deadbolts on any doors that lead to water, latches that are high enough where only adults can reach.
- Never leave your child alone in the bathtub, even if it is for just a few seconds.
- Empty water from containers when you are done with your cleaning projects.
- Install locks on toilets so they remain closed. Toddlers can get theirs heads stuck in the toilet if they are curious about that water.
- Children with seizure disorder are at high risk of drowning. The most common cause for an unintentional injury to children with a seizure disorder is drowning, with the bathtub being the most common site.
Water Safety at the Pool
- Never leave children alone in your backyard where your pool may be. The best way to prevent drowning is to have an adult supervising child.
- If an adult needs to take a break or take care of something else, practice a verbal hand-off with another adult so there is a direct link with the responsibility
- Install a fence that is at least 4 feet tall around all 4 sides of the pool and not connected to the house.
- The gate to the pool should open out from the pool and have a self-close and self-latch that children can’t reach.
- Children can be tricky and fast, so think about installing window guards on windows facing the pool and reconsider using pet doors that can have access to the pool.
- Think about having rescue equipment made of fiberglass or other material that does not conduct electricity, including a shepherd’s hook (a long pole with a hook on the end).
- Have approved life jackets for their age and size, as recommended by US Coast Guard and tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Avoid using “floaties” as these are not a substitute for life jackets and create a false sense of security.
- It’s a good idea to take swim lessons, and you as the parent can decide when it is best for your child to take those lessons based on their development. But remember, swim programs should not be viewed as “drown proof” for any child.
- Talk to child about diving at your pool and avoid diving in the shallow ends. As a general rule, teach them to get into unknown waters with their feet first.
- Keep riding toys away from the pool and talk about not running on the pool deck
Water Safety in the Open Water
- It’s a good idea to swim with an adult around, and definitely avoid swimming by themselves.
- Avoid diving into the water unless they know the depth of the water.
- If you are swimming on lake Michigan and get caught by a riptide, allow the current to take you out until you feel it has dissipated and remain calm. Then swallow parallel to the beach line and eventually turn in towards the beach.
- Other water hazards found near homes where you may want to keep a close eye on your child include canals, ditches, postholes, wells, fishponds and fountains
- Wear an approved personal floatation device (life jacket or vest) when boating, riding a personal watercraft, fishing, water skiing or just plain playing in a river or water stream
- Avoid swimming around anchored boats, motorboat lanes or where people are waterskiing.
- Do not swim in electrical storms
In Case of an Emergency
- It’s a good idea for parents to learn CPR if you live near bodies of water, you never know when you are going to need it.
- Have pool safety and CPR instructions by the pool side.
- Always have a phone near a pool and teach your children about 911.
- Make sure rescue equipment is readily available by the pool side, including a shepherd hook, rope and a safety ring.