When the Taylor family's new swimming pool was completed, the builder was about to fill it with water. But Erin, a New Jersey mother of three children - two of whom were nonswimmers - stopped him: "Not one drop of water goes into that pool until the fence is installed," she insisted.
Erin and her husband, Jay, are painfully aware of how dangerous swimming pools can be. Jay's young cousin, Alicea, had drowned in a neighbor's unfenced aboveground swimming pool, and the preschooler's funeral was seared into their memories.
Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death to children ages 1 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- In many Sunbelt states, it's the leading cause of death.
- Children ages 5 and younger are at the highest risk, accounting for 76 percent of all reported drowning-related fatalities.
- The U. S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) ) found that the majority of all drownings in the 1-5 age group were associated with pools, and nearly half of those victims were last seen in the house.
"Drowning is swift and silent. There is no splashing sound or cry for help," says Kim Burgess, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "That's why parents need to be aware of the danger and install alarms to alert them and barriers to delay a child's unsupervised access to a swimming pool, hot tub or other backyard water feature."
Burgess adds: "Barriers can buy parents the precious time needed to recover from a brief lapse in supervision. But remember, if a child is missing, check the pool area first."
For every child that drowns in a pool or spa, it's estimated another 10 are treated for submersion injuries. The CPSC reports that between 2008 and 2010, there were, on average, 5,100 pool- or-spa-related submersion injuries involving children younger than 15 years of age treated in emergency departments. Many suffer profound, permanent brain damage, requiring life-long skilled nursing care.
Nadina Riggsbee, of Benicia, Calif., knows first-hand the suffering those parents endure. In 1978, a babysitter removed a bar the Riggsbees had placed in the track of a sliding glass patio door to let the family dog outside. While the sitter was in the bathroom, the Riggsbee's 26-month-old daughter, Samira, and 14-month-old son, JJ, opened the door and fell into the backyard swimming pool. Samira died, but JJ survived with profound brain damage.
"After my family's tragedy, I became outraged whenever I heard a news report of another child drowning. I thought to myself, 'Someone should do something,'" said Riggsbee.
So she did. Riggsbee founded the Drowning Prevention Foundation to promote public awareness and advocate for swimming pool barrier legislation. Thanks to her efforts, Contra Costa County, Calif., required all newly constructed swimming pools to have an isolation fence, an automatic safety cover or alarms on house doors leading to the pool area. The 1984 act is thought to be the first swimming pool barrier law.
While no national law requires residential swimming pool barriers, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act in December 2007. The statute requires anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices in all public pools.
But the law does not require anti-entrapment drain upgrades in private home pools and hot tubs. Nor does it mandate swimming pool barriers. Rather, it mandates a public safety education program.
As a result, the CPSC created the Pool Safely campaign, launched in May 2010. The hub of the program is a dedicated website where campaign partner organizations can order free public education resources such as brochures, posters and public service announcements. Parents and other child educators can visit the site to access children's stories and activities designed to spark a conversation about safer behavior around pools and spas.
The law also provided funding that enabled the CPSC to contract with national safety nonprofit organizations, such as the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, Safe Kids USA and the Home Safety Council to promote the Pool Safely campaign and create their own outreach initiatives.
Burgess says that she is very pleased by the clear, empowering messages of the Pool Safely campaign. "It really fits our motto: Drowning is preventable. And simple steps really do save lives."
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance asks everyone to reduce risk by following the Safer 3 program developed by the Swim for Life Foundation:
- Isolate the pool from the house and yard area by surrounding it with a fence and self-closing and self-latching gate.
- Install door, child immersion and pool alarms and locking pool and spa covers. Several barriers provide backup in case one fails.
- Prevent children's unsupervised access to any body of water, including natural ones, bathtubs, buckets, coolers and toilets.
- Designate a "water watcher" to ensure constant, attentive adult supervision during water recreation and at bath time.
- Teach children water safety and swimming skills. Parents and child caregivers should also know how to swim proficiently.
- Check the pool area or other water features first if a child is missing.
- Know CPR with rescue breathing.
- Keep a phone and reaching and throwing aids near the pool.
- Develop an emergency action plan and make sure everyone knows it.
Remember, simple steps save lives. So please, Pool Safely! For more information, visit: