Dear Mr. Dad: One of my family's favorite things about summer is that we get to spend a lot of time in and around water, whether that's at the beach or in a swimming pool. But every year I hear about kids (and adults) who drown and I'm really getting worried -- especially since two of my children are very young. Are drownings getting more common? And whether they are or not, what can we do to be safe?
A: What you're describing is called the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon, and it describes the feeling you get when something you just found out about starts popping up everywhere (in much the same way as when you buy a new car, all of a sudden, everyone seems be driving the same make and model). But while there's definitely a lot more media coverage of drownings and other water-related accidents, the actual numbers are dropping nationwide. For example, in 2014, 346 children under 15 died from drowning in pools and spas, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); that's down from 397 in 2010, a decrease of 13 percent.
That said, every single one of those deaths is a tragedy -- especially when you consider the fact that many were completely preventable. The same goes for the 4,000 or so non-fatal "submersion injuries," which require emergency room treatment every year. Here are some guidelines (some provided by the CPSC) that should help keep your family safer this summer.
-- Always have a "Water Watcher" to supervise children around the water. This person -- a responsible adult or teen -- must agree to not read, text, play video games, talk on the phone, or do anything other than carefully watch everyone who's in or near the pool, spa, or other body of water.
The Water Watcher and everyone else should pay particular attention to boys. Sixty eight percent of drowning victims under 15 (and 77 percent of those under five) were male. Adults tend to shrug off boys' rough play and excessive risk taking as "boys will be boys." But the consequences of that lackadaisical attitude can be deadly.
--Make sure that all pools and spas are surrounded by a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. This will keep younger kids from wandering into the pool area. Pool covers can add an extra layer of safety, but be sure the cover complies with the highest safety standards.
--Empty toddler pools and store them upside down. Children can drown in as little as half an inch of water.
--Learn how to swim and teach your kids to swim.
--Take a CPR class that teaches how to perform this life-saving procedure on children and adults.
--Ensure that any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards. If you're not sure, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.
--Teach children to stay away from drains, pipes, and other openings. Every year there are numerous "circulation entrapment" incidents, most of which involve an arm, leg, some other body part, or hair getting sucked into a drain or pipe or caught on a broken or missing cover. While most of these incidents aren't fatal, they're very scary and, as mentioned, usually preventable.
--Take the CPSC's pool safety pledge and urge everyone you'll be swimming with to do the same. You'll find the pledge at https://www.poolsafely.gov/pledge/
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2017 Armin Brott
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