Pool safety emphasized after 90 drownings

COVINGTON -- It can happen in an instant: A child slips out the back door, heads for the pool and, before a parent knows what's happened, drowns.

There have been 90 drownings in swimming pools of children age 15 and under since Memorial Day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency cites media reports showing that an additional 106 children of that age required emergency response for near-drowning incidents. Seventy-two percent of those that drowned were younger than age 5.

Children ages 1 to 4 are especially vulnerable, said Kathleen Reilly, the spokesperson for CPSC's Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives Campaign, which aims to educate the public about drowning prevention. This week is National Pool Safely Week.

Reilly said she reads reports every week of toddlers who wandered off and drowned in the family pool or a neighbor's pool.

"Supervision is No. 1," Reilly said. "If we speak to our behavior psychologists here, no one can watch their child 24-7 because they have other things to do."

But there are safety precautions parents can take, such as raising locks on doors so they are out of children's reach or installing door alarms. Installing fencing around a pool with sufficient locks is also important, for in-ground and above-ground pools as well as portable pools, she said.

Unguarded pools "are just an invitation for a little child to explore. If they had a good time in a pool, they want to go back," she said.

Keeping pools securely covered and locked and keeping safety equipment nearby to throw, like ropes or life rings, are other safety precautions that can be taken. However, if a small child falls or jumps in a pool, an adult who can swim will need to jump in and retrieve him.

Also, "Learn CPR. That's what has to be done immediately when you get them out of the pool," Reilly said.

The CPSC recommends teaching children to swim and how to get to the side of the pool as early as possible, and adults supervising children should also know how to swim.

A law that passed several years ago requires that all public pools -- including those at apartment buildings, country clubs, schools, community and aquatic clubs -- have anti-entrapment drain covers. But not all public pools may be in compliance with the law. Check with the operator/owner of the pool to make sure it includes a drain cover. Private pools are not required to have drain covers, but they can be purchased.

While a recall of more than 1 million drain pool covers occurred in 2011, Reilly said agencies that certify the safety of the devices have changed their practices to ensure their safety.

CPSC recommends keeping children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings; making sure that loose items such as long hair, clothing or jewelry are not dangling when swimming or sitting in a spa; making sure pools have compliant drain covers; installing a Safety Vacuum Release System that will automatically shut off a pump if a blockage is detected; and to plainly mark the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump.

If someone becomes entrapped, cut off the pump immediately instead of trying to pull the person away from the powerful suction of the drain or grate; insert fingers or a small object between the drain and the person's body to break the seal and then roll them off until they're free. Keep a portable phone close by when swimming to call for help.

Reilly said any time there is standing water, there is a danger that a child could drown, noting that the agency is aware of incidents where children have drowned in a bucket of water, adding that adults should be watchful and keep containers with standing water out of the reach of children.

For more information on pool safety, visit www.poolsafely.gov.