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Make a splash with water safety

Last Modified: July 06, 2024

Family Medicine, Safety & Prevention

Man helping child put on life jacket

Summer is here, and many are flocking to the nearest body of water to enjoy the warmer weather. However, with lake and pool time increasing, parents and caregivers must take the proper steps to protect their little swimmers from water injuries and even drowning. For more on the subject, we turn to Jeffrey O'Dell, MD, PPG – Pediatrics, who shares some smart water safety tips to avoid these warm-weather hazards.

What is water safety?

Water safety seems like a simple concept, and it is. It means taking appropriate steps to avoid death or injury while in or near the water. However, water safety requires caution and constant vigilance, especially where children are concerned. Young children are intensely curious and often have little awareness of danger, so water safety is a parent or caregiver's responsibility. A parent wouldn't dream of leaving a baby in a bath unattended; this should also be true of a toddler or school-age child when playing outside near a lake, pond, river or swimming pool.

Why is water safety so important?

Drowning is the number one cause of injury-related death in children ages 1-4 years old and the second leading cause of preventable death for older children through the age of 15. Most of these drownings, roughly 69%, occur during non-swimming times. For this reason, it is essential to take precautions and teach children proper water safety etiquette. With summer upon us, we all want to see children outdoors enjoying themselves while getting valuable exercise and time with their friends, so let's take steps to keep them safe while doing so.

What are the most pertinent water safety tips for parents, caregivers and families this summer?

There are many things we can all do to ensure a safe summer for our children, but here are a few ways to add additional layers of protection to prevent drowning and water injuries:

  • Swimming pools: If you have an underground pool, make sure there is a fence around the perimeter to keep young children out when the pool is unsupervised. If you have an above-ground pool, be sure to block the stair access or pull them out of the pool when no one is around to watch little swimmers.

  • Lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks: Living on or near water is a wonderful treat, but it requires careful supervision of your children. Be sure to watch them closely when outside, ensure they don't wander off alone and encourage them to stay in groups, especially with older children or adults.

  • Touch rule: If you are in the water with a young child, please remember the "touch" rule even if they have had swimming lessons. This rule requires you or another caregiver to always remain within arm's length of your child so you can touch or reach them in an emergency. This is also a great form of exercise for adults as they try to keep up with a busy toddler!

  • Water watcher: When playing in or near the water, always assign a water watcher. This person is a responsible adult who can look after all swimmers playing in or near the water. It's best to work in shifts with family and friends to remain vigilant.

  • Swimming lessons: For parents and children alike, swimming lessons can be a valuable tool for reducing drownings and water injuries. However, it's important to remember that just being able to swim is not considered water safety. CPR training for parents and caregivers is also a great idea, and classes are available from several local organizations.

  • Life jackets/flotation devices: When boating or playing in a pool, pond, lake or other large body of water, your child should always wear an approved flotation device or life jacket. Think of it as a water seat belt you and your children must wear whenever you go out on the water.

  • In-home/yard safety: Don't forget these places as well. It's important not to allow toddlers access to open toilets or bathtubs with any amount of water in them. Also, keep open water containers out of reach or empty them when not directly in use. It may feel extreme, but a child can drown in an inch or two of water, especially if they fall into a container headfirst.

How can parents and caregivers make water safety a priority?

Making water safety a priority begins with awareness. Take the time to learn more and pay close attention to your children when around water. Not only is this important for their safety, but it's also just plain fun! Who can resist a joyous, laughing child playing in the water? Get right in there with them and share the moment. You'll also keep them safe without even working at it.

What steps should someone take if there is a water emergency?

If someone is in trouble in the water, act immediately. The first and simplest step is to call for help. Yell, wave, and do what is necessary to get assistance while someone calls 911 if needed.

If a child is struggling in a tub, toilet, bucket, small fountain or pool, get them out and help them as best you can. If you have CPR or rescue training, take the appropriate action. If the victim is in a larger body of water, you may need the help of a trained rescuer. Always keep your eyes on the victim. They could go under or be swept away by a current. It is often helpful to keep pointing at them with your finger to show others where to look while keeping you focused and vigilant.

Additionally, it's never safe to put yourself or others in danger when trying to help someone. If you must reach out to the victim, try using a pole, pool cleaning rod, or long branch or tossing them a flotation device with a rope attached so you can try pulling them to safety. But please, BE VERY CAREFUL! Water rescue can be extremely dangerous, and you do not want to become the second victim.

Final thoughts

Please do not be afraid to enjoy the water. It is often a kid's favorite place to play, especially in the hot summer months. Take the time to learn more about water safety, get out there with your little swimmer and have fun! A little preparedness and common sense can make this a great summer both in and on the water.

Helpful resources Water safety and young children

National Safety Council: Drowning

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