Child Drowning Dangers & How to Prevent Them

drowning accident infographicAs parents, it’s our job to protect children from evident and unseen dangers, including those that disguise themselves as innocent summer fun. Every year, when spring brightens to summer, Washington residents of all ages eagerly take to the swimming pools, often unaware of the dangers. Unfortunately, drowning is the number one cause of death for children aged 14 and under in Washington, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And for every child who dies from drowning, another four receive emergency care for water submersion injuries.

A Washington State Department of Health review found that 85% of drowning deaths between 1999 and 2003 were preventable. How can you ensure that your child enjoys the fun of summer swimming without suffering injury, or worse?

Armed with the information below, you can protect your children from the risks associated with swimming pools.

Danger: Time Lapse Between Swimming Seasons

Drowning deaths in WA state

  • A Washington State Department of Health (DOH) review from 1999-2003 reports that approximately 71% of drowning deaths occurred between May and August.
  • For one- to four-year-olds, the risk of drowning is decreased by 88% by participation in formal swimming lessons.

Children in Washington primarily utilize swimming pools in the summer months, meaning they spend only a fraction of the year practicing their swimming skills. Imagine not playing a sport for nine months and then attempting to perform it perfectly. The risks are greater than just missing a pass or fumbling the ball; children who have not practiced water-based skills face serious consequences, such as drowning. To ensure that they can safely navigate the water during the summer months, children need the opportunity for repetitive learning offered by either by swim lessons or by year-round, monitored access to a pool.

What You Can Do

Enroll your child in regular swim lessons. An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) news release recommends swimming lessons for children age four and older but mentions that not all children will be ready to swim at the same age. Public pool facilities offer access to swimming lessons and water safety training for people of all ages. YMCAs provide such programs at a lowered cost, and throughout the state of Washington alone, there are 37 YMCAs with pools. To find the one nearest you, visit the YMCA website. Small children can also improve water familiarity and practice life-saving maneuvers, such as floating, in the bathtub.

The AAP suggests practicing the arm’s length rule with infants, toddlers and weak swimmers, meaning a capable adult should never be more than an arm’s length away from them while they are in the water.

Danger: Incorrectly Preparing a Pool to Close or Reopen

Pool covers

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 72% of drowning deaths from 2006 to 2008 occurred in residential pools or spas.

What You Can Do

Fewer deaths would occur if residential pool owners would seek the same level of safety as public pool facilities by hiring professionals for pool maintenance or seeking a professional’s advice. Pool heating, lighting, pumps, drains and filters can prove dangerous if not properly maintained. Many organizations offer advice for both winterizing and reopening a pool, but the best way to ensure the safety and longevity of your pool is to have a professional help you with both procedures. We recommend adding the chemicals necessary to winterize or reopen your pool when children are not around, so kids do not develop an interest in the dangerous chemicals or attempt to “help” by adding more at a later date.

Danger: Filtration and Suction Systems Cause Entrapment

pool drain hazard

  • From 1999 to 2008, the CPSC reported 83 incidents of suction entrapment leading to injury or death.
  • An eight-inch main drain with a standard pump can create a tremendous 350 pounds worth of suction force, according to a Pool & Spa News article.
  • The CPSC recalled 8 brands of pool drain covers due to possible entrapment hazards on May 26, 2011.
  • The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safely Act, passed in December 2007, set higher standards for public pool safety. It required pool facilities to install new drain covers and add extra entrapment prevention equipment to all single main drains, lessening the risk of entrapment-related injuries and fatalities. See if yours is compliant here.

What You Can Do

A swimmer who is near a pool drain can become stuck to the drain due to its suction power. This is called entrapment. If someone does become stuck to the drain, the best way to dislodge him or her is to wedge your hand in between his or her body and the grate – disrupting the suction force – rather than using a pulling action, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

At the beginning of each swim season, refer to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website to ensure your filtration and drain systems have not been recalled due to defects.

The Pool Safely program is a national effort to educate the public in order to reduce child drowning and entrapment incidents in swimming pools and spas. The Pool Safely website has many resources for staying safe in pools, including this list of tips.

Danger: Pool Equipment and Toys

pool toys

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of air-filled swimming aids to keep young swimmers safe. These floatation devices may become deflated, resulting in drowning.

What You Can Do

Refer to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website before and throughout pool season to see if any toys or equipment have been recalled due to safety hazards. Check all toys at the beginning of the summer to ensure that they are still in safe working condition.

You must take responsibility for your child’s supervision, rather than relying on floatation devices. Although life jackets are highly successful at preventing drowning, nothing takes the place of a parent’s watchful eye. If there is a pool on the premises, supervision must be constant even when children are not swimming. The Washington State DOH found that among children under four years old:

  • Most drownings occur in residential swimming pools
  • Most children were last seen inside the home
  • Most were out of sight for less than five minutes
  • One or both parents were home during most drownings

The Department’s Child Drowning Prevention guide also states that parents or other adults who are supervising swimming children must

  • Be sober
  • Be able to swim
  • Be CPR-trained
  • Have a cell phone nearby to call for help if needed
  • Be completely focused on the child

Danger: Chemicals

pool chemical danger

According to a CDC report,

  • In 2008, an estimated 4,574 people visited an emergency room for pool chemical-related injuries.
  • The most common injury associated with pool chemicals is poisoning due to the ingestion of chemicals or inhalation of fumes, vapors or gases.
  • More than half of pool chemical injuries occurred at a residence.

What You Can Do

Store pool chemicals out of the reach of children. When adding chemicals to the pool, keeping children away will prevent possible exposure that could result in injury, as well as decrease their interest in playing with the chemicals. It is vital to be sure to add the pool chemicals correctly. For your own safety, carefully read and follow all instructions. Avoid splashing chemicals into your eyes or onto your skin. The CDC offers advice for dealing with chlorine exposure here.

Danger: Hazardous or Poorly Maintained Pool and Grounds

pool fence

  • A pool fence is the #1 piece of drowning-prevention equipment; the risk of drowning is cut in half when there is a fence that completely surrounds the pool, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Unfortunately, inflatable aboveground pools are often exempt from the building codes that require a pool fence.
  • 27% of children were sitting or playing near the water at the time of drowning, according to a Washington State Department of Health review from 1999-2003.

What You Can Do

Slip-and-fall accidents account for more than 1 million trips to the emergency room annually, according to the National Floor Safety Institute. Not only can a fall on a slippery surface cause serious injury, it may even be fatal. The Mayo Clinic cites falls as the leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI), particularly in children. TBIs can result in long-term physical and mental complications or death.

Hazards that cause slip-and-fall accidents include chipped or slippery deck surface, unsecured railing, items obstructing the walkway, behavior such as roughhousing or running, and many more. Parents and homeowners must minimize risk of injuries resulting from slip-and-fall incidents by maintaining pool grounds and banning dangerous behaviors.

Not all pool owners will secure their pool and the grounds around it to ensure safety. If your child wants to spend time at a friend’s house where there is a pool, check it out first. Pool Safely recommends that pool owners and parents ask these questions every season to determine what steps need to be taken to prevent child drowning or submersion injuries:

  • Is there a fence around the perimeter of the pool or spa?
  • Are the gates self-closing and self-latching?
  • Are door, gate or pool alarms in use?
  • Does the pool have anti-entrapment drain covers that are compliant with the Pool & Spa Safety Act?
  • Are all pool and spa covers in working order?
  • Has everyone learned to swim?
  • Have the adults in the family received training in CPR, first aid and emergency response?

If your child spends time at a public pool, you can also find out whether the facility has been inspected to ensure that it complies with federal, state and local laws. If pool gate, grounds or equipment are missing or in disrepair or if any other hazards are apparent, do not let your child remain on the premises. Outline the factors that do not meet your safety requirements, and ask when the owner plans to make the fixes. Do not allow your child to return until the pool, gate and grounds are hazard-free. Even if your child is a strong swimmer, he or she is not immune to the potentially fatal dangers of faulty pool equipment or unsafe conditions.

By staying knowledgeable, being vigilant and utilizing all available pool safety measures, parents can prevent children from becoming a devastating statistic. Happy Swimming!

UPDATE: We created a drowning accident infographic to illustrate ways in which you can protect your kids.

Perey Law Group is a proud sponsor of the Drowning Prevention Foundation. Click on the logo below to learn more about the foundation.

Drowning Prevention Foundation