“Most people think they’ll hear sounds of distress when a child is in trouble in the water. But they won’t. A drowning is a silent event,” said Dr. Jefry Biehler, Associate Director of Trauma Services at Nicklaus Children's Hospital. “In many cases the parents are sitting nearby, reading or talking. And in the blink of an eye, their lives are tragically altered forever.”
So far in 2007, Nicklaus Children's Emergency Department, the region’s only freestanding pediatric Trauma Center, has received seven drowning victims. Two died from their injuries. Nationally, drowning is the second cause of unintentional injury-related death to children ages 1 to 14, claiming the lives of 900 children each year.
While drowning events can happen in Florida canals, lakes and oceans, the most common place is the family swimming pool. “The majority of drowning and near drowning cases that we treat in the Emergency Department occur in backyard pools,” said Brian Hannigan, Injury Prevention Specialist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, who also serves as the Safe Kids Coordinator for Miami-Dade County. Safe Kids is an international organization dedicated to promoting safety messages to prevent injuries. According to Safe Kids Wordwide, most children who drown were last seen in the home, had been missing from sight for less than five minutes and were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning.
Make you pool are safe for children.
Dr. Deise Granado-Villar, Director of Preventive Medicine and Community Pediatrics, said, “Constant adult supervision and adding layers of protection to restrict pool access remains the best means to prevent swimming pool drowning.”
Pools should be outfitted with pool covers and fencing at least five feet high on all sides, with a self-closing latch. Also, locks and alarms should be installed on all doors and windows that lead to the pool, said Hannigan.
Parents should not rely on flotation pool toys to keep children safe. These can lose air or float away from inexperienced swimmers. Children who cannot swim should wear a life jacket at all times in and around the pool and all children should be taught the importance of never swimming alone.
The most important way to keep your kids safe is to keep your eyes on them. Rachel Perry, a Coral Gables mother of two, said. “If my husband or I start to become distracted by reading material or conversation while watching kids in the pool, one of us will remind the other to ‘keep our eyes on the prize.’ Nothing we have to do is more important than the safety of the kids,” she said.
To keep adults focused on who is to watch young swimmers, Nicklaus Children's Hospital, and Safe Kids Worldwide have created a “Water Watcher Card.” Adults can pass the large laminated card from one to another during a swim day to ensure that at least one adult at a time is monitoring swimming children. To receive a free card, call 305-663-8476
Drowning Prevention Tips
Always actively supervise children in and around water. Don't leave, even for a moment.
- Stay where you can see, hear and reach kids in water. Avoid talking on the phone, preparing a meal, reading and other distractions.
- Children should swim only in designated and supervised swimming areas.
- Teach children never to swim alone.
Use barriers to keep kids away from water when you're not around.
- Four-sided isolation fencing, at least five feet high and equipped with self-closing and self-latching gates, should be installed around all pools (including inflatable pools) and spas. Fencing should completely enclose the pool or spa and prevent direct access from a house or yard.
- Install barriers of protection around your home pool or spa in addition to the fencing, such as pool alarms, pool covers, door alarms or locks.
- Never prop open the gate to a pool barrier. Don't leave toys that could attract children in or around a pool.
- Empty buckets, wading pools and other containers immediately after use, and store upside down and out of reach.
- Keep toilet lids down and locked and doors to bathrooms and utility rooms closed when not in use.
Pool drains are an often-overlooked drowning hazard.
- Teach children never to go near a pool drain, with or without a cover, and to pin up long hair when in water.
- Install multiple drains in all pools, spas, whirlpools and hot tubs. This minimizes the suction of any one drain, reducing risk of death or injury.
- Regularly check to make sure drain covers are secure and have no cracks. Replace flat drain covers with dome-shaped ones.
- Know where the manual cut-off switch for the pump is in case of emergency. Consider installing an approved "safety vacuum release system" (SVRS), a tool that quickly and automatically turns off the pump (and stops the suction) when something is trapped in or blocks the drain.
Use life jackets and other safety gear, but know that any child can get in trouble in the water, even if he is wearing a life jacket or has taken swimming lessons.
- Always wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices while on boats, in or near open bodies of water or participating in water sports. A PFD should fit snugly and not allow the child's chin or ears to slip through the neck opening.
- Air-filled swimming aids, such as "water wings" and inner tubes, are not safety devices and should never be substituted for PFDs.
- Learn CPR and keep rescue equipment (like a lifesaving ring), a telephone and emergency phone numbers poolside.
Everyone should know the water safety rules.
- Make sure children take swimming lessons when they're ready, usually after age 4. Check with the local department of parks and recreation or Red Cross chapter to find a certified instructor, and look for classes that include emergency water survival techniques training.
- Forty-four states have laws that require children to wear PFDs while participating in recreational boating. The U.S. Coast Guard has also issued a rule requiring children under 13 to wear PFDs on board recreational vessels on Coast Guard waters. The rule applies to states without PFD laws. Recreational boats must carry one properly sized, U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD, accessible and in good condition, for each person onboard.
- Teach kids the safe way to help someone in trouble in the water: call for help and throw the person something that floats.
- Don't let children dive into water less than nine feet deep, and no one should dive into a river, lake or ocean.
- Children ages 16 and under should never operate personal watercraft.