Keeping Kids Healthy
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

Ahh, the joy of cool refreshing water in a swimming pool right outside the back door of your home on a hot summer day.

This can be bliss for your family and friends if all the correct safety measures are in place to protect children against entering the pool without proper supervision.

Drowning was the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among U.S. children between 1 and 19 years old from 1990 to 2000, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children up to 4 years old 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 four to six 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 5 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. There are other measures that when employed offer secondary levels of protection.

Some of these extra layers of protection include a fence at least 4 feet tall completely surrounding the pool; self-locking locks placed high on the gates leading to the pool; alarms on the gates; swimming lessons when your child becomes mobile; and CPR in case there is an accident.

Remember, infants and children can drown in inches of water. CPSC 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.
• Keep 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 might become trapped 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 aboveground pools when not in use.
• Learn CPR.
• 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, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.