For younger children, portable pools such as inflatable and wading pools, can pose a significant drowning risk, even more so than in-ground pools, according to a new study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The study found that a child drowned in a portable backyard pool once every five days during the summer months between 2001 and 2009, with the majority of the children drowning being five years old or younger.
“Children drown quickly and quietly,” says Patsy Zoumberis, RN, Health Educator for Houston Healthcare and Coordinator of Houston County’s Safe Kids Coalition. “A drowning child cannot cry or shout for help. If a child is missing, always check the pool first—there is no time to spare.”
The simplicity and affordability of portable pools, including wading pools, inflatable pools, and soft-sided, self-rising pools, has led to their rise in popularity for many families; however, their convenience does not make them safer alternatives to larger in-ground pools. In fact, their convenience can make them even more dangerous because many safety methods used for permanent, in-ground pools, such as fencing, pool alarms, safety covers and removable or lockable ladders, are too expensive or not available at the time of purchase for portable pools.
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals supports “layers of protection,” and the study underscores the importance of active, undistracted adult supervision. Zoumberis agrees. “The most important precaution is active supervision. Simply being near your child is not necessarily supervising,” she advises.
Although 94 percent of parents say they supervise their children while swimming, many acknowledge that they engage in other distracting activities at the same time, such as talking, eating, reading or taking care of another child. “A supervised child is in sight at all times with your undivided attention focused on that child,” explains Zoumberis. “When there are children in or near the water, adults should take turns serving as the designated ‘Water Watcher,’ paying undivided attention to the children.”
The study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital shows that children were supervised by adults in fewer than half—43 percent—of the drownings and near-drownings, and that most—73 percent—occurred at home. Among other data, the study also showed that CPR was administered before emergency crews arrived in only 15 percent of the fatalities and 17 percent of the near-drownings, another cause for concern says Zoumberis.
“Even a near-drowning incident can have lifelong consequences. Children who survive near-drowning may suffer irreversible brain damage from being under the water for as little as four to six minutes,” she adds. “Learning CPR can give a fighting chance to a child whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped. It takes less than two hours for parents or other caregivers to learn effective, potential lifesaving interventions.”
To help keep children safe this pool season, Safe Kids of Houston County recommends the following precautions:
If the child’s home has a pool—in-ground, above or portable—or spa, or any home the child visits has some type of pool or spa, it should be surrounded on all four sides by a fence at least five feet high with gates that close and latch automatically. Studies estimate that some type of isolation fencing could prevent 50 to 90 percent of child drownings in residential pools.
A pool or spa should also be equipped with an anti-entrapment drain cover and a safety vacuum release system to prevent children from becoming caught in the suction of the drain. The powerful suction forces can trap a child underwater or cause internal injuries.
Do not leave toys in or near the pool where they could attract unsupervised children. For extra protection, consider a pool alarm as well as alarms on the doors, windows and gates leading to the pool. Remove access ladders from the sides of above-ground, portable pools to prevent children from climbing up and falling in by themselves.
Enroll children in swimming lessons around the age of four, but do not assume swimming lessons will make a child “drownproof.” There is no substitute for active supervision.
Inflatable swimming toys, such as “water wings” and noodles are not flotation devices and do not prevent drowning.
Learn infant and child CPR. In less than two hours, parents can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped.
Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency phone numbers by the pool.
“These guidelines apply not only to in-ground pools, but inflatable and portable pools as well. A child can drown in just an inch of water,” warns Zoumberis. “Kiddie pools should be emptied and stored out of reach of children when not in use.”
Safe Kids of Houston County works to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children age 14 and younger. Its members include volunteers from the Houston County community. Founded in 1992 and led by Houston Healthcare, Safe Kids of Houston County is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing childhood injury. Safe Kids of Houston County meets the third Tuesday of each month, except for July, at 12:30 p.m. at the Houston Health Pavilion on Houston Road in Warner Robins. For more information about Safe Kids of Houston County, call (478) 923-9771.