Let’s get the troubling statistics out of the way first.
Most drownings involve children ages 1 to 4. Of children who died of unintentional injury in 2009, 30 percent died of drowning. For each child who dies in a drowning accident, five will need emergency room care for nonfatal, near-drowning injuries; half of them will need hospitalization or additional care.
Now, the good news. The vast majority of these injuries and deaths are preventable. Preparation – in the form of education and swimming skill – is the key.
Let’s take the last point first. Let’s make sure everyone who’s near any kind of water knows how to swim well. The American Red Cross is just one organization offering learn-to-swim and water safety courses (learn more at www.redcross.org).
Whether around the pool at home, at the beach or on Maine’s waterways, make sure that if something happens help is not far away. Have a well-stocked first aid kit handy. You or another responsible adult needs to be supervising children all the time. And make sure someone knows CPR – there are many courses for this as well.
Wearing life jackets is just common sense. While the letter of the law may require only persons age 10 and younger actually wear a personal floatation device, those other PFDs required to be on board won’t do much good if they’re stowed away. Make sure they’re Coast Guard-approved life vests in good condition and use them. Don’t entrust a child’s life to water wings, “noodles” or other toys.
Know local weather conditions before swimming or boating; storms can form quickly. When you’re near water, at home or away, stay in touch. Keep a cell phone handy; you can use it to summon help in an emergency.
Keep backyard pools safe and secure. Sturdy fences should keep unattended pools out of sight of young eyes; gates should be self-closing and self-latching. Install pool and gate alarms to alert you in case youngsters become too curious. Consider installing surface wave or underwater alarms.
If your house serves as the fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and use them. In addition to a first aid kit and flotation devices, have scissors handy, in case you need to cut hair, clothing or a pool cover.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a motto that sums up its ongoing safety campaign: Pool safely. The CPSC sums it up this way on its website ( www.poolsafely.gov): “Adopt and practice as many safety steps around the water as possible — because you can never know which safety step will save a life — until it does.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a wealth of summer safety tips that go beyond the beach or pool at www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/.
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