by Dr. JJ Levenstein
The month of May has come and gone, and yet many of you may not have realized it was "National Drowning Prevention Month." As our warm spring and summer months arrive every year, I brace myself for the inevitable news that yet another child or young adult has drowned in this community. Drowning is the second cause of unintentional/accidental child death in the United States -and the number one cause in California! The State of California and www.safekids.org have published terrific public safety information about drownings, and steps we can all take to prevent this tragedy. It is so important, first of all, to dispel myths about how drownings occur. The following are 9 myths of drowning:1. Is drowning really a problem?A. Yes. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1-4 in California. A residential pool is 14 times more likely to cause a death than an automobile accident.2. Don't more children die in open water (oceans and lakes) than in pools?A. No. 50% of deaths by drowning occur in residential pools.3. Isn't it more important to have a locked gate to keepneighbors out than to have a pool fence?A. No. 65% of the children died in their own pools at home. 46% of the children were last seen safe inside the house just before the drowning. 72% had direct access to the pool once they were outside the house (i.e. no pool fence).4. Isn't it just parental neglect that causes drowning?A. No. According to the U.S. CPSC Drowning Study, conscientious parents who understand the need for supervision were almost always present on the premises.5. Won't swimming lessons protect a child from drowning?A. No. Swimming lessons do not prepare a child for a drowning or a near drowning situation. A young child may be able to learn to float, but may not be able to climb out of a pool. At any age, an unexpected panic may set in with an accidental fall or scare, and a "good swimmer" becomes vulnerable to drowning.6. Isn't constant supervision enough to prevent drowning?A. Although constant supervision is part of prevention, we recommended added "layers" of protection which include a well maintained non-climbable fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate, alarm systems, powered safety pool covers, and self-closing, self-latching doors with automatic sliding door closers (leading out to the pool area). A parent reading a magazine at poolside or peering out a kitchen window can lose up to 30 seconds of reaction time - that time necessary to drown.7. Is there any proof that fences or safety barriers work? Can't a child climb over a fence?A. In studies conducted in Australia and New Zealand, the findings suggest that adequate, four sided pool fencing (at least 5 feet high) reduced drownings by 80%. Studies in Arizona demonstrated a 50% reduction.8. Won't fences detract from the aesthetics of pools?A. There are several kinds of fences to choose from which meet safety requirements and there are also alternatives such as an approved safety cover. Families must always weigh the risk versus benefit of an aesthetic choice prevailing over a safe choice. The answer is obvious to me, and yet countless times I hear of grandparents, in particular, unwilling to give up their beautiful garden view in order to erect a safe pool fence for their grandchildren!9. Do pool owners without young children need to install protective barriers?A. 35% of residential drownings are not at the home of the victim but rather at the home of a friend or immediate family member. So the answer is, YES!Now that I have dispelled those myths for you, how can you be sure that you provide a safe pool environment for your children, family members, visitors and friends?- Never leave a child alone near water to answer the phone, the doorbell, go to the bathroom, attend to another child or attend to household chores, even for a few seconds.- Keep a constant eye on young children playing in or near any body of water, wading pool, public pool, bathtub or lake. At large gatherings, designate an adult to watch children at play, and while in pool. Ideally there should be 1 adult per 2 young children, 1 adult per 3 older kids.- Fence your pool on all four sides with a barrier that is at least 5 feet high. Move lawn chairs, tables and other potential climbing aids away from the fence to help keep children out.- Any gate or door leading to the pool area should be self-closing and self-latching, opening outward, with the latch placed on the pool side out of reach.- Install panic alarms on all house doors and windows leading to the pool area, automatic sliding door closers and automatic safety cover over the pool.- Completely remove cover before children are allowed in pool. Drain off water that accumulates on top of the pool cover. A child can drown in as little as two inches of water.- Keep reaching and throwing aids, such as poles and life preservers, on both sides of the pool.- All non-swimmers should always wear approved personal flotation devices when they are near water (no floaties, but actual jackets with a tether between the child's legs)Swimming lessons do not insure safety. About 25% of all young drowning victims have had swimming lessons. A child who falls int water unexpectedly will panic and forget his swimming skills.- It is crucial that you and all of your child's caretakers can swim and know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in an emergency. Immediate CPR could prevent death or massive brain damage.- ALWAYS keep a working cell phone or land line near your pool.- Cover pool and Jacuzzi drains with anti-vortex drain covers (about $5-$10 at your local pool supply store). The force of vacuum from a drain can entrap long hair, body parts, swi(from sitting on a drain). 75 children lose their lives each year by being trapped on drains and being unable to surface for air. This is a little known risk, and yet, again, entirely preventable with the use of these drain covers.