One unfortunate statistic of summer is that an estimated 260 children under five years of age drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Another estimated 3,000 children under age five are treated in hospital emergency rooms following submersion accidents each year, with some of these submersion accidents resulting in permanent brain damage, the Commission states.
On a national level, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death to children under five, and in some states - such as California, Florida and Arizona - drowning is the leading cause of accidental death to children under five.
Pools and children can be an exciting combination, providing hours of fun and relief from the hot summer sun. But pool safety cannot be taken lightly, and adults are encouraged to build layers of protection for their children and the children under their care at the pool. Physical protections designed to prevent accidents when a pool is not in use, training in both swimming and water safety for children who plan to use the pool, and proper supervision any time a pool is in use are essential to a safe and accident free summer. No system is perfect, but not having a system in place almost cetainly guarantees your pool will have an accident.
Protection for your pool covers the physical structure of the pool, the supervision needed for safe activities, and ways to teach children to help themselves if they have trouble in the water.
A backyard pool should be separated from the house by a fence, or, if the pool is directly through an exit door to an enclosed area, by a locked door that cannot be easily opened by children. Most young children who drown in pools wander out of the house and fall into the pool, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most municipalities require a 4 to 5 feet high fence around all 4 sides of the pool, completely separating the pool from the house and play area of the yard. It is important to use gates that self-close and self-latch, with latches higher than your children's reach.
For in-ground pools, a power safety cover that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) adds to the protection of your children but should not be used in place of the fence between your house and the pool. Even fencing around your pool and using a power safety cover will not prevent all drownings. Outdoor spas also require a hard, securable, cover when the spa is not in use.
Never use a pool with its pool cover partially in place, since children may become entrapped under it. Remove the cover completely.
Keep rescue equipment - such as a shepherd's hook or life preserver - and a telephone by the pool during the summer. When the pool is not in use the rest of the year, having the life preserver and crook handy is still a good idea, just in case of accidents.
Place tables and chairs well away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing into the pool area. Remove steps to above ground pools when not in use.
The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim. Always swim with a buddy; never swim alone. The American Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To enroll in a swim course, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
But swiming lessons will not "drown-proof" a child, or an adult, for that matter. Young children should always be watched carefully while swimming.
The Red Cross warns to watch out for the "dangerous too's": too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity. And for adults, don't mix alcohol and swimming. Alcohol impairs your judgement, balance, and coordination, affects your swimming and diving skills, and reduces your body's ability to stay warm.
Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.
Maintain constant supervision when a pool is in use. Watch children around any water environment (pool, stream, lake, tub, toilet, bucket of water), no matter what skills your child has acquired and no matter how shallow the water.
Don't rely on substitutes to protect children. Flotation devices and inflatable toys do not replace parental supervision. These devices often suddenly shift position, lose air, or slip out from underneath, leaving the child in a dangerous situation if they are not fully able to swim, or are just off balance.
Parents should take a CPR course. Knowing these skills can be important around the water and you will expand your capabilities in providing care for your child. You can contact your local Red Cross to enroll in a CPR for Infants and Child course.
Look in the pool or spa area first if a child is missing. Seconds can make a different between life and death in a drowning situation.
Assign more than one responsible, trained adult to supervise the pool or spa, especially during social gatherings. If one adult is distracted by a child having a problem, or not following the rules, that second adult might be the one who saves your child when they go under.
Never leave a child alone near a pool/spa, bathtub, water-filled bucket, pond, or any standing body of water in which a child's nose and mouth may be submerged. Always review pool safety measures with the baby-sitter. If the baby-sitter isn't trained to handle water safety, make the pool off-limits until someone can be there to assist.
Make sure all adults and baby-sitters responsible for pool safety are trained in infant and child CPR. There is a big difference between CPR for an adult and a child. Make sure that frequent pool/spa users know how to swim and know water rescue techniques. Even a non-swimmer can save someone, by throwing a life preserver or reaching with a pole.
Keep rescue equipment by the pool. A lifesaving ring with a line attached and shepherd's hook are the minimum requirements, as well as a CPR instructional sign.
Have a phone located nearby the pool any time the pool is in use. Leaving the pool area to answer the phone has resulted in all too many drownings of children.
Additional safety measures
Remove all toys from the pool after use so children aren't tempted to reach for them. A favorite ball is tempting to a child too young to understand the danger of an open pool. Also, after children are done swimming, secure the pool so they can't get back into it.
Never allow anyone to swim alone. Even the best swimmer can have an accident, get a cramp, or slip on a wet spot and hit their head.
Consider installing a floating or submerged pool alarm that sounds both outside and inside your home should someone accidentally fall into the water. If the surface of the pool is disturbed by a large object falling into the water, the alarm will sound and alert the family to check the pool.
Post and enforce rules such as no running, pushing, dunking, or other horseplay.
Realize that a child can drown in as little of 2 inches of water. Drain standing water off of your pool/spa cover. Empty wading pools and turn them over to ensure rain water does not fill them.
Keep all electrical appliances, such as radios, away from pools or spas because of the potential shock hazard they present.
Use nonslip materials on pool decks, diving boards, and ladders.
Before you install a pool, or if you buy a home with one already installed, contact your local municipal office to find out the requirements for your area. Some places have very specific rules about fencing, locks, and supervision which must be followed by all pool owners to protect them from liability, as well as accidents.