Summer is here and with families quarantined at home, the backyard is replacing the beach for many of us.
Whether your pool is inflatable, above ground or in-ground, water play and swimming can turn your backyard into a place the whole family wants to be but safety experts want parents to be aware that drowning hurts more families than we realize.
Drowning is actually a leading cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization notes that "globally, the highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years." In the United States, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death.
According to the CDC, there are about 10 non-boating related drownings in America every day. One in five people who die from drowning are kids under 14, and for every fatal childhood drowning, another five kids are rushed to a hospital and survive their submersion injuries.
Parents should assign a designated watcher
During a pool party or a cookout there's a lot going on, and it's natural to get distracted. That's why the Mayo Clinic recommends parents and adults at such gatherings take turns tapping in as the "designated watcher" and fully focus on the kids playing in or around a pool.
A survey by Safe Kids Worldwide found that many parents (48%) believe they would hear splashing, crying or screaming if their child was in danger in the pool, but submersion injuries actually tend to happen silently, so watching is better than keeping an ear out. Kids under four are particularly vulnerable to drowning, so they should be kept within arms reach of when swimming in a pool.
Take swimming lessons (but still supervise)
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "children over age one may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. However, there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than one year of age."
While it is true that swimming lessons are no substitute for adult supervision, infant swimming lessons are a good way to introduce your child (and maybe give yourself a refresher course) on the basics of water safety.
Infant self-rescue swimming lessons (which aim to teach babies how to roll onto their back and float) are popular with parents, but have attracted controversy in recent years and safety experts don't want parents to feel overconfident in a child's ability after taking such a course.
"Parents may think they won't have to supervise as closely," Barbara Morrongiello, a professor with the University of Guelph who studies drowning prevention, told Global News. Morrongiello notes that swim lessons for toddlers can help the children become confident in the water, but she doesn't want parents to get overconfident.
Install fences and barriers
According to the CDC, most drownings of kids under four happen in backyard pools, so if you've got a pool, barriers should be a top priority. According to Parachute, a charity dedicated to injury prevention, "a fence which provides a complete barrier around all sides of a pool may prevent seven out of 10 drownings to children under five years of age."
Indeed, many pool drownings don't happen when the family is together, but when a child has somehow accessed the pool during a time they were not expected to. That's why "self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children," and "additional barriers such as automatic door locks and alarms to prevent access or alert you if someone enters the pool area," are important, according to the CDC.
For more backyard pool safety tips, check out redcross.org.
[A version of this post was originally published June 12, 2018.]