3:08 PM EDT, March 11, 2013
Keep your swimmers safe at home
By Amy Merck and Shari Berg, Tribune Content Agency
Florida leads the country in drowning deaths of children ages 1-4 — three times the national average, according to the Safe & Healthy Children’s Coalition. Residential swimming pools account for about 60 percent of drownings, according to the Florida Department of Health. A child can drown in a few minutes — the amount of time it takes to run inside to get a towel.
The risk of drowning correlates to the number of pools in the area. With 67,000 registered backyard pools in the county, according to the Orange County Department of Health, pool safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Layers of safety
Geoff Dawson, president and founder of The Pool Safety Resource, says he believes layers of protection are best.
“If one layer should fail, you have another layer of protection,” Dawson says. “The more ... layers we have in place, the safer our children will be.”
Layer 1 - Supervision: This is the most important element in pool safety, according to the Florida Department of Health’s WaterproofFL campaign. This doesn’t mean having a bunch of adults sitting around the pool. Too often, there is a false sense of security in numbers. Drownings are quick and quiet. Don’t assume someone is watching. Assign someone to focus solely on the people in the pool.
Dawson recommends the supervising adult wear an identifying lanyard, and the duty be handed to someone else every 15 minutes to ensure the “watcher” is always fresh.
Dawson also warns against relying too heavily on floatation devices to keep children safe.
Layer 2 - Barriers: A child should never be able to get near a pool without adult supervision. It is too easy for a child to slip out a back door undetected and end up in the pool. Childproof locks, door alarms, fences, gates and professional covers all introduce obstacles between a child and a pool. The Florida Department of Health recommends using a combination of barriers.
“Isolate the pool as much as possible, particularly using fencing, and only go through that fencing when you want to use the pool,” says Dawson.
The fence should be at least four feet in height and more than four inches wide and climb-resistant, he says.
Layer 3 - Emergency preparedness: Acting quickly could save a life if a child has stopped breathing. Having someone present who knows CPR is vital, as is having accessible rescue equipment. Pool owners, family members and babysitters should all know CPR and other life-saving practices. CPR and safety instructions should also be posted in a visible place. A phone should always be nearby to call 911.
Know how to swim
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 4 and older learn how to swim. Even children ages 1 to 4 are less likely to drown if they have taken swimming lessons, although they should never be left without adult supervision while in a pool.
Adults are not immune to pool danger, so Dawson says it is important that adults follow some basic safety rules, too. Dawson says teens and adults should use a buddy system when swimming.
The dangers of entrapment
A potential hazard in any pool is the risk of entrapment, when a person’s body, hair, limbs or clothing become entangled or entrapped in a drain. In 2002, a 7-year-old girl, a swimmer since she was 3, died after she became trapped by a faulty hot-tub drain. A law named in her honor, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act of 2007, requires anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices.
To reduce the risk of entrapment, make sure your pool has P&SS Act-compliant drain covers. Know where and how to turn off the pool pump, and clearly mark the location of the electrical cutoff switch, in case someone becomes trapped. Make sure swimmers do not have loose items such as long hair, clothing or dangling jewelry when using the pool. You can also install a Safety Vacuum Release System, which will automatically shut off a pump if it detects a blockage.
Make your pool a safe place to play
Dawson, who speaks to children ages 3 to 6 each year about pool safety, says educating children about pool safety is vital to keeping them safe.
Involving children in the making of pool rules is a good way to help them learn and remember the rules. The first rule always should be that mom and dad must give permission to use the pool, and a responsible adult must be watching swimmers while the pool is in use.
“When we have an incident, nine times out of 10, everybody says ‘I thought someone else was watching,’” Dawson says.
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