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Splash Safely: Tips for Keeping Pool Time Safe and Fun

By Kristin Emery

  • Families look forward to spending time by the pool when summer arrives. Employ these tips to help make sure you and your children are safe.

    Summer brings seasonal swimming pool openings across the country. But fun hours in the water require vigilance and attention to safety. Here are a few best practices for keeping swimmers out of harm's way:

    Eyes on the Water
    According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) web page on pool and spa safety, 4,400 children younger than 15 years old required emergency treatment for drowning-related injuries in 2011. A sharp lookout, therefore, is essential. Safe Kids Worldwide suggests a "water watcher" — a responsible adult whose duty is to supervise children when they are in or near water. When on duty, a "water watcher" may not talk on the phone, text, read or wear headphones — anything that can cause a distraction.

    "Somebody has to have eyeballs on those kids," says Kim Burgess, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA). Be on guard at all times, she warns — particularly at pool parties where distractions abound. "If I go to a pool party, am I going to rely on some other parent to watch my child?" As the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona (DPCA) notes, about half of serious incidents and deaths each year occur in group settings.

    Safety Features
    Pools can be irresistible to young kids, the DPCA warns. So when the pool is unsupervised, make sure sturdy gates keep little ones away from the water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says fences should be at least four feet high and have self-latching gates that open outward, with latches that are above a child's reach.

    Any structure for swimming or recreational bathing (hot tubs too) must have anti-entrapment drain covers to prevent anyone from being pulled or stuck underwater. This became a federal legal requirement in December 2008. If your drain cover was installed before then, contact a pool professional to have it inspected.

    Start Lessons Early
    A few swimming lessons make a huge difference, even for very young kids, according to the CDC — they reduce the risk of drowning by as much as 88 percent among children ages one to four years old. That's especially important, as young children are at the highest risk for drowning — the CPSC says about three-fourths of drowning victims are under five years old. The CDC adds, however, that swim lessons are not a substitute for supervision and sturdy fences.

    Pool safety requires you to lay some groundwork ahead of time. It takes foresight to install safety features, get the kids signed up for swim lessons and arrange for supervision of younger swimmers. But if you take these steps, you'll have less to worry about when the kids head to the pool.