Danger lurks for many Texas children this swimming season

“I only turned my back for a few seconds.” Too often these are the words spoken by a parent after a child drowns. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children under four. Weekend water outings in June can be the most deadly. Most drownings take place on weekend afternoons in May through August, with June the peak month. In Texas, 63 people drowned in June 1999. Preliminary data also shows that in Texas 387 adults and children died from drowning in 1999, usually in a lake, river or creek (153) or a swimming pool (64). Another 270 were admitted for at least 24 hours of hospital treatment and 97 were treated but not admitted. Frequently the drowning victim was a child who was left unattended. “Even the most innocent lapse in parental attentiveness can be deadly,” said Jim Soper, manager of the Public Swimming Pool Inspection Program at the Texas Department of Health (TDH). “Small children can drown in the time that it takes to answer the phone, and there’s rarely splashing or cries for help to alert anyone that a child is in trouble.” According to a U.S. Product Safety Commission survey, most drownings and accidents occur while children are being supervised by one or both parents. An incredible 77 percent of young drowning victims were missing from sight five minutes or less, 46 percent were last seen in the house, and 69 percent were not expected to be at or in the pool where they drowned. “What’s needed is active attentiveness by an adult for the entire time the child is near the water,” Soper said. “Good barriers are also necessary’the more the better.” Drownings at residences often happen not at the child’s home but at the home of grandparents or neighbors who have no young children. “These homeowners often ask ‘why do I need fences or other protection around my pool’ I don’t have any kids.’ But it’s visiting children who get into trouble while the adults are elsewhere chatting,” Soper said. Almost half of all submersion incidents at pools happened at someone’s home, and half of these were at the victim’s home and the other half at another person’s home. Health officials advocate layers of protection around swimming pools because one good barrier may not be enough. Having multiple safeguards such as fences, door latches and alarm systems is more effective. Install pool covers designed to prevent children from falling or otherwise entering the pool. If poorly designed covers are used, children can fall into the pool and drown. Pool safety is a community issue, and many communities have fence codes. Some local building codes require a fence, an alarm or other barrier to prevent access from the back door to the pool. Parents may call local police or health departments to report a pool without a fence or other protections. They also can encourage their communities to adopt local building codes that require additional safety barriers for pools. You can help reduce the chances your child will be a statistic. Teach children these safety rules: ‘ If you’re playing with something that falls in the swimming pool, do not go into the pool to get it yourself. Ask an adult to get it for you. ‘ Never play close to the edge of the pool because you can fall in. ‘ Always stay away from the deep end of the pool ‘ Never run on the pool deck or boat dock. ‘ Always jump in feet first. ‘ And a rule that’s excellent for all ages: Never swim alone. Some additional suggestions to help keep your children safe: ‘ Never leave your child alone near the water, even for just a few seconds. Be actively attentive and keep small children within arm’s reach. ‘ Avoid swimming in natural bodies of water where water may not be sanitary and dangerous currents, debris and rocks can’t be seen from the surface. ‘ Always use approved personal-flotatation devices rather than inflatable toys to keep your child afloat. ‘ Have a first-aid kit, a phone and emergency phone numbers nearby. ‘ Be sure all neighborhood pools have fences or walls at least four to five feet high all the way around that do not have footholds for children to climb. Avoid vertical bars more than four inches apart and chain link fences that provide footholds. ‘ Keep chairs, tables and other items that would enable a child to climb over away from pool fences. ‘ Fence gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out of child’s reach. ‘ Purchase alarms. Door alarms cost about $6 at hardware stores. Wrist alarm bands go off when children get wet. And a pool alarm goes off if anything weighing more than 10 pounds falls in. ‘ Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) from the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross. For more information, call TDH’s Recreational Sanitation Branch, at 512-834-6635, or check the TDH web site at www.tdh.state.tx.us/beh/gs/pools.htm.

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