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July 24, 2007 > Play it Safe: Make Water Safety a Priority This Summer

Play it Safe: Make Water Safety a Priority This Summer

ER Physician Recommends Vigilance, Common Sense Safety Measures

Children and adults alike are drawn to it in almost any form - large or small - during the hot summer months. Water that is. From back yard pool parties to family trips to beaches, lakes and rivers, swimming seems like the perfect way to cool off. But it's important to remember that with water, from a few inches a back yard kiddy pool to potentially a frigid and deceptively placid river, constant vigilance is the key to enjoying a safe summer.
According to Dr. David Orenberg, medical director of Washington Hospital's Emergency Department, drowning cases seen in the ER are thankfully relatively rare, but most do end tragically.
"You would think water related accidents would all be preventable," he says.
Nonetheless, in 2004, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, there were 3,308 unintentional fatal drowning cases in the United States, averaging nine people per day, a figure that does not include the 676 fatalities, from drowning and other causes, due to boating-related incidents. Additionally, the CDC states that for every child 14 years and younger who died from drowning in 2004, five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. More than half of these children were hospitalized or transferred to another facility for treatment, the CDC says.
Just in the last two months, drowning cases involving children have hit the local headlines, including a 14-year-old boy who drowned in June during a school-sanctioned pool party in Oakland and a 4-year-old boy more recently who drowned in the new "wave pool" attraction at the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara.
The CDC warns that even nonfatal drowning can be serious, leaving victims with brain damage that result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to the permanent loss of basic functioning, such as permanent vegetative state.
A few simple measures taken to prevent accidents, according to Dr. Orenberg, may be able to reduce, if not avert, the chances of a tragedy, especially in the home where most drowning accidents involving children occur.
The first and foremost safety measure, he says, is constant parental supervision - whether in the back yard or near any other water source, regardless of the amount. He notes a tragic case of a baby who died of chemical pneumonia in the hospital after falling face forward into a nearly empty bucket containing a mixture of water and household cleaner that had been left on the floor of the garage. Any amount of water can pose a danger to small children, Dr. Orenberg points out.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), most drowning accidents occur when one or both parents were responsible for supervision. The commission states that the key to preventing drowning accidents in the home pool is to have layers of protection, including barriers around the pool to prevent access, using pool alarms, closely supervising children and being prepared in case of an emergency.
Dr. Orenberg, however, is quick to note that even the best preventive measures are only useful if parents choose to use them consistently.
"Pool covers are only children-proof if you use them," he says. "If you do have a swimming pool on your property, you have to be extremely careful. Make sure everyone in the family has received swimming instruction. There's not a certain age where you can stop worrying about pool-related accidents. Even teenagers need some supervision."
For younger children, Dr. Orenberg suggests having them wear some type of reliable water flotation device whenever they are around the pool, even under parental supervision.
Additionally, it is always important to have access to a phone in case of emergency, he says. Keep a cordless or cellular phone by the pool area so that you can call 9-1-1 without having to return indoors. Parents and older children should also be trained in water safety measures, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case of a drowning.
Washington Hospital offers a number of health and wellness related classes, including ones that focus on safety for infants and young children. To see a list of classes, call the hospital's toll-free Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070 to receive your free copy of the Health & Wellness Catalog or visit, click on "For Our Community," and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" for a list of upcoming classes.

Parents: Keep the Back Yard Pool Safe

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers these tips to prevent drowning:
* Fences and walls should be at least four feet high and installed completely around the pool. Fence gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out of a small child's reach. _
* If your house forms one side of the barrier to the pool, then doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with alarms that produce a sound when a door is unexpectedly opened.
* A power safety cover - a motor-powered barrier that can be placed over the water area - can be used when the pool is not in use.
* Keep rescue equipment by the pool and be sure a portable phone is poolside with emergency numbers posted. Knowing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be a lifesaver.
* For above-ground pools, steps and ladders to the pool should be secured and locked or removed when the pool is not in use.
* If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
* Pool alarms can be used as an added precaution. Underwater pool alarms generally perform better and can be used in conjunction with pool covers. CPSC advises that consumers use remote alarm receivers so the alarm can be heard inside the house or in other places away from the pool area.
* Parents and guardians: Only you can prevent a drowning. Watch your child closely at all times. Make sure doors leading to the pool area are closed and locked. Young children can quickly slip away and into the pool.
To see more pool and water safety tips, visit the CPSC's Web site at

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