MARCH 16, 2011 -- As the thermostat rises in St. Louis, thoughts turn toward backyard pools and trips to the lake, river or other water hole. Before you even dip a toe in the water, it's time to brush up on water safety. Drowning is a "quick, quiet and subtle" killer of children, said Stephe McCormick, director of Backyard Lifeguards, a full-service aquatic safety company in St. Louis. When it comes to youth injuries, drowning is the second-leading cause of death. McCormick offers the following tips for enjoying the water safely.
1. Always supervise children near water.
Never leave any child who may gain access to water unattended, and do not engage in other distracting activities while supervising. Water safety experts from the US Centers for Disease Control, Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Red Cross, and Safe Kids Coalition ALL agree that most youth drowning deaths occur during a lapse in supervision. About 75 percent of children are out of sight for less than five minutes, and in 9 out of 10 cases, the child was in the care of one or both parents at the time. In self-reporting, more than half of parents say they do not worry about their child drowning, and many don't know that it is the second-leading cause of youth injury-related death. A whopping 94 percent of parents admit doing distracting activities while supervising their swimming children.
2. Enroll children in swim lessons.
Early and frequent exposure to water leads to faster skill acquisition. According to the National Institutes of Health, swim lessons have a protective effect against drowning. The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of swim lessons for very young children, but reminds parents to be vigilant, as no child should ever be considered drown-proof, and swimming skill is not a substitute for close supervision. Swim instruction helps both children and parents understand a child's specific capabilities in water. Don't presume the swimming abilities of any child. Each child learns at his or her own pace, and skill regression from season to season is quite common.
3. Buy a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest.
Look for the Coast Guard seal on the inside of the vest. Air-filled or foam floatation toys and swim aids are not appropriate substitutes. Most people think that drowning persons will exhibit obvious signs of distress, but drowning is quick, quiet and subtle. Drowning persons are rarely able to wave their arms or call for help. In as little as 20 seconds, a child can submerge beneath the surface of the water, which quickly hides and suffocates. Only a real life vest will keep a child from submerging.
4. Swim near a lifeguard.
Trained professional lifeguards have a positive effect on drowning prevention. Lifeguards perform scores of preventive actions, and just their presence motivates safer behavior among swimmers. Pool parties have been found to be particularly dangerous, with separate studies showing one- to two-thirds of pool deaths occurring during planned group activities. In a 10-year study, the United States Lifesaving Association found that of the total drowning deaths per year, those that occur under lifeguard supervision account for less than 1 percent. Because swimming abilities are uncertain and can change, parents should continue to directly supervise their children even when lifeguards are present.
5. Surround home pools with barriers.
Fences should be at least four feet high with vertical bars and self-latching gates. Vertical bars prevent climbing, and gates or access doors from the house should never be left open. If a child is missing, check the pool first. Home pools are the most common drowning site for children under age 5, with 65 percent of accidents occurring at the victim's home, and 33 percent occurring at the home of a family member or friend; less than 2 percent result from children trespassing on property where they don't belong. Nearly 70 percent of children who drowned in home pools were not expected to be in or around the pool, but were found in the water. Most were last seen in the home, on the patio, or in the yard.