By DR. SALLY ROBINSON

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, from 1990 to 2000, drowning was the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among American children ages 1 to 19. Children ages 0 to 4 and adolescent boys are at the highest risk of drowning. Young children are most likely to drown in the bathtub or after accidentally falling into the water. Adolescent boys are 4 to 6 times more likely to drown than girls mostly because they think their swimming skills are better than they really are, and they are more likely to take risks.

Teaching your child to swim does not necessarily make him or her safe in the water, but swimming lessons for ages 4 and younger will decrease their likelihood of drowning by 88 percent. Unlike the movies, drowning children rarely thrash about but rather slip quietly under the surface of the water. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states that 77 percent of the children had been seen five minutes or less before being missed and subsequently discovered in the pool.

Different methods of protection can be put into place that will create as close to a fail safe system as possible. Supervision is the best method, but in 69 percent of the drownings, supervision was not in place when the accident occurred. Remember infants and children can drown in inches of water.

The commission offers the following tips for pool owners:

• Never leave a child unsupervised near a pool.

• Instruct baby sitters about potential hazards to young children in and around swimming pools and the need for constant supervision.

• Completely fence the pool. Install self-closing and self-latching gates. Position latches out of reach of young children. Keeping all doors and windows leading to the pool area secure to prevent small children from getting to the pool. Effective barriers and locks are necessary preventive measures, but there is no substitute for supervision.

• Do not use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision.

• Never use a pool with its pool cover partially in place, since children may become entrapped under it. Remove the cover completely.

• Do not use the pool if drain covers are missing. Long hair, arms, legs and fingers can get stuck in the drain’s current and pull a child under water.

• Place tables and chairs well away from the pool fence to prevent children from climbing into the pool area.

• Keep toys away from the pool area because a young child playing with the toys could accidentally fall in the water.
• Remove steps to above ground pools when not in use.

• Have a telephone poolside to avoid having to leave children unattended in or near the pool to answer a telephone elsewhere. Keep emergency numbers at the poolside telephone.

• Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

• Keep rescue equipment by the pool.

Even though supervising children in the pool can be challenging, you will feel better knowing that these security measures are in place to help make the time in and around your pool as safe as possible.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.