Rise in child drownings prompts new warnings on pool safety

Consumer Reports News: May 22, 2008 11:10 AM

The number of drowning fatalities of children younger than five in swimming pools and spas has increased to a yearly average of 283 for the years 2003 to 2005 from a yearly average of 267 for the years 2002 to 2004, according to a report released Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of the deaths occurred in residential pools and spas and involved children ages one and two. Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages one to four.

The report also noted that the number of emergency room visits for injuries caused by pool or spa submersions decreased from a yearly average of 2,800 in the years 2004 to 2006 to an average of 2,700 for each of the years 2005 to 2007.

At a press conference, the CPSC issued a reminder about the new federal pool and spa safety measure that was signed into law in December. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act requires that by December 19, 2008, all public pools and spas have safety drain covers, and in certain circumstances, an anti-entrapment system. “CPSC is calling upon all public pool and spa owners to comply with the new federal law and we urge parents to never let their children out of sight when they are in or around a pool or spa,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord.

Nancy Baker, whose 7-year-old daughter Graeme, died in 2002 as the result of a spa entrapment incident and after whom the law was named, was also in attendance. "This legislation helps give meaning to the tragic circumstances that took Graeme’s life and the lives of many other children,” said Baker. “It is a tribute to these children and their grieving families that this law will prevent injuries and deaths as a result of drowning. Graeme would be honored that it is in her name."

New CPSC data shows that between 1999 and 2007 there were 74 reported incidents involving entrapment, resulting in nine deaths and 63 injuries. Six of the deaths occurred in pools and three occurred in spas and all of the deaths except for one involved children 14 or younger.  Entrapments occur when a child is trapped by the force of suction at the drain and can occur because of a broken or missing outlet cover.

But drain entrapment is just a small contributor to the high number of drownings that the CPSC reported.  Lapses in caregiver supervision, missing or inadequate fencing, lack of effective alarms, and use of non-safety covers can also contribute to drowning and injury.  We are particularly concerned about the hazards caused by inflatable pools, which often escape inclusion in and enforcement of municipal safety codes. (For more on inflatable pools, watch our video on pool dangers.)

Because drownings occur when children get access to a pool, often without adult supervision, the CPSC recommends that pool owners adopt several layers of protection including fences, alarms and/or power safety covers over the pool. It also recommends removing ladders from above-ground pools when not in use. In addition, the agency recommends that parents follow these tips to help prevent drowning deaths:

  • Since every second counts, always look for a missing child in the pool first. Precious time is often wasted looking for missing children anywhere but in the pool.
  • Don't leave toys and floats in the pool that can attract young children and cause them to fall in the water when they reach for the items.
  • Inspect pools and spas for missing or broken drain covers.
  • Do not allow children in a pool or spa with missing/broken covers. Inserting an arm or leg into the opening can result in powerful suction and total body submersion/drowning.
  • For above-ground and inflatable pools with ladders, remove or secure the ladder when the pool is not in use.
  • It is important to always be prepared for an emergency by having rescue equipment and a phone near the pool. Parents should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

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