Keeping your pool safe for all swimmers

By Emma Pignato

Parents and caregivers should ensure that a home swimming pool has an effective safety plan and additional layers of protection. Most drownings seen at Cook Children’s occur in a swimming pool during the least expected times. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause among children ages 1 to 14 in Texas.

Typically, during unscheduled swimming times, children creep in unnoticed, curious and looking for adventure, and this is when drowning most often occurs. It is essential to never lose sight of your child when you are in or around a swimming pool.

Drownings are preventable – more often than not, parents do not hear their children drowning; this is why children must be given special attention at or near the swimming pool.

Don’t be the person who thinks, “This won’t happen to me. Drowning can happen to anyone in a split second, not just negligent parents who don’t watch or pay enough attention to their children, and not just children who can’t swim.

A parent’s work in water safety isn’t done when their child learns to swim. Even experienced swimmers are susceptible to drowning and should always be supervised or wear a life jacket at all times.

When choosing a life jacket for your child, always check the label. If it doesn’t say “US Coast Guard Approved” or “USCG Approved”, don’t use it – assume it’s unsafe and untrustworthy. As your child grows, the lifejacket should adjust to their new weight. Get a new lifejacket if the straps are torn or frayed.

Sharon Evans, Cook Children’s Injury Prevention Coordinator, shared tips and insights on pool safety.

What advice do you have for parents this summer while they’re at their home pool?

The most important thing is to keep your eyes or hands on your children at all times. The vast majority of our drownings that we see at Cook Children’s occur in backyard swimming pools. It’s not always the owner’s child – often they went to someone else’s house for a barbecue or a party.

When you have a pool party, for example, the more people you have at the pool, the higher the risk of a child drowning, because everyone assumes someone else is watching the kids. Wear a Water Watcher tag for 15 minutes, while wearing it you cannot eat, drink or talk to anyone else – you are just watching the children in the pool. Then pass the tag to someone else.

What are some common incidents seen at Cook Children’s?

We see similar stories every time: the child will be in the pool, swimming with a life jacket, then he will come out of the pool to go to the bathroom or eat something and the parents will remove the life jacket and from a somehow they go back into the pool. Drownings are always silent, not like in movies where you see the child struggling and screaming. We’ve had parents sitting by the pool on their phones, unaware that their child is drowning because he’s so quiet.

Are life jackets the safest option for children?

Anything Coast Guard approved is safe. We see a lot of parents using puddle jumpers and these are also safe, as long as they are Coast Guard approved and not inflatable. Inflatable floats or anything inflatable can deflate at any time.

Does drowning prevention differ from age to age?

Generally, drowning prevention is the same for all ages. We had older teens/young teens who go to the pool and they get tired and can’t swim. You should always watch him, even though he’s an excellent swimmer, that doesn’t mean you can take your eyes off him.

Pool Safety Checklist:

Choose a water spotter

  • A child must have constant supervision near or in a swimming pool. Choose a designated Water Watcher and make sure there are no distractions.
  • If more than one adult is present, switch water watch stations every 10 minutes.
  • Put away your phone or any other possible distraction.

Install fences around residential pools

  • Proper fencing around swimming pools could prevent 50-90% of child drowning incidents.
  • A four-sided insulation fence should be around your pool.
  • Fences around swimming pools should be at least 4 feet high.
  • Self-locking/self-locking gates that only open outwards.
  • Gates with childproof locks must remain locked at all times if the pool is unattended.

Watch out for pool drains

  • Teach your children to stay away from pool drains or any equipment with high suctions where hair or clothing can get caught.
  • Make sure your child’s pool is equipped with compliant and functional drain covers.

Use pool/door/child alarm

  • An alarm can give you crucial seconds that could save a child’s life.

Empty the inflatable or portable pool immediately after use

  • Even shallow pools pose a risk of drowning.
  • Store them upside down so they cannot collect water.

Know what to do in an emergency

  • Take CPR classes as a family.
  • The adult should immediately call 911 and then begin CPR while EMS is on the way.
  • Schedule water safety and swimming lessons.

For more information and resources, go to LifeguardyourChild.org.

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