Drowning is a silent killer. It can happen in a matter of minutes, and most times there is no splashing or sound. As of a week ago, said Inez M. Tenenbaum, chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 81 drownings and 113 near-drownings had occurred in America so far this year.
The average age of the victims was 3 years old.
Although drowning is the second largest killer of children under 5, 58 percent of parents still don't consider drowning a threat to their children, Tenenbaum reported. The CPSC's "Pool Safely" campaign has "a simple but powerful goal, to save the lives of children," Tenenbaum said during a conference call with mommy bloggers June 15 to help spread the word about water safety.
Tenenbaum and others addressed several safety issues during the conference call, including water safety, mandatory drain and drain cover safety rules for public pools, home pool safety measures and lake, creek and river safety.
"You never know which safety step will save a life until it does," she said.
The three most important safety steps, she noted, are staying close, learning and practicing water safety skills and having the appropriate safety equipment including drain covers, alarms and fences.
Regarding staying close to children who are swimming, it is recommended that when in a pool with a child who cannot swim and he is wearing some sort of flotation device, an adult still should be within arm's reach of the child at all times. In addition, when at gatherings where lots of children are swimming and the adults are conversing, choose one adult out of the group to keep both eyes on the children at all times. This advice extends to all swimming venues, including lakes, creeks and rivers.
"We know families go on picnics, the adults start talking, they're barbecuing, alcoholic drinks are being consumed, and then people take their eyes off the children. And it happens so quickly. You have to make sure that everyone knows how to swim, that someone in the group is going to be responsible, that children wear life vests and maybe children have a swimming buddy. ... The message we keep telling people, you have to always be vigilant. You can't your take eyes off the children," Tenenbaum said.
During the conference call, guest speaker Katie Taylor addressed the drain cover issue by telling how her 7-year-old daughter, Abigail, died nine months after being disemboweled by an unmaintained drain cover in a public kiddie pool in June 2007.
Now there is legislation to help keep public pool and spa operators compliant - the Virginia G. Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was enacted in December 2008 to ensure public drain covers meet safety standards. It is up to the states' attorneys general and the CPSC to enforce the law, Tenenbaum said.
"If my child was swimming in a public pool, I would definitely make sure the pool was updated and make sure it has a backup system. I would certainly inquire about whether or not it complies," Tenenbaum said.
Residential and private pool owners, she said, can keep their pool drains safe by installing a second drain to decrease the suction or an automatic shut-off system. If someone is unsure if the drain is safe, he can call the pool installer or manufacturer to check.
The bottom line, Taylor and Tenenbaum said, is to teach children never to play near pool or spa drains.
In addition to drain safety, Tenenbaum mentioned equipment home pool owners can install to decrease the likelihood of a drowning. Four-foot fences should be installed with gates that lock. Parents should consider putting alarms on the doors of their home so they are alerted if a child goes outside. In addition, sensors can be installed to sound when the water is disturbed. Remove ladders from above-ground pools, she added, when not in use.
For more information, including interactive games for children, visit www.poolsafely.gov.