Drowning, defined by the World Health Organisation, as respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid, has shown an alarming increase in the last few years. In fact, according to Arrive Alive, it is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. More alarming is the fact that its occurrence is mostly in the innocuous swimming pools, and very often, at the child’s own home.
Research in US, puts children aged, 1 to 4, as the most susceptible age group involved in the incidents of drowning. Statistics compiled by the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), Singapore also showed an upward trend of drowning or submersion incidents that involved children of pre-school age. Though the younger children around the world seem to be more vulnerable to water-related accidents, research shows that the older ones, including those who know swimming, are no less at-risk. This is because, when it comes to water- related incidents, risk-taking and overconfidence in an older child plays a significant role in water deaths, especially in boys. This puts the boys in ‘at-risk’ bracket consistently in all the major drowning incidents around the world.
Not surprisingly, most reported drowning incidents are fatal. In addition, most of these that make it to the newspaper headlines involve death. However, non-fatal drowning involving the hidden victims are equally concerning and have recently being included in the drowning statistics. Clinically identified as “non-fatal drowning” victims, these mostly consist of the curious toddlers who are attracted to the swimming pool at their homes or neighbourhood, and who walk in to the pool to play with the water. These worrying statistics makes it imperative to monitor young children at all times, regardless of the size of the pool. It also insists that the safety measures are put in place.
One of these measures, include the use of safety barriers and recently, the National Safety Council released regulations on 4-sided residential pool fencing. According to the report, four-sided fencing around the swimming pool is the best protection possible. “When our children somehow find their way to the pool in our absence, we need to make it difficult for them to get in,” says Michael Corkery, President of Pool Guard USA. “Well-built four-sided pool fences that are, at least, 1.2 m high, with vertical bars no more than 100mm apart and horizontal bars at least 900mm will do just that. These fences are even more effective than human presence because they will always be there,” says Michael. To make it more comprehensive, the US Consumer Product Safety commission has come with a Safety Barrier Guidelines for Swimming Pool.
Apart from erecting the appropriate fences, it is also essential that the parents and supervisors of young children are equipped with the emergency protocol in case of drowning related incidents. Having appropriate reaching or throwing equipment, knowing emergency numbers to call in distress, life jackets and a first aid kit available with emergency instructions inside are a must in each household where small children have access to a swimming pool.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) further suggests safety tips for swimmers and, these are specifically directed towards parents of children swimming in the pool. They advise parents not to leave their child unattended and recommend that parents should teach children not only how to swim, but should also equip them with basic water safety tips. Red Cross further spells out the dos and the don’ts of water safety and have come up with a free swim app to prepare for water emergencies.
In addition to the safety preparedness by the parents, there are renewed calls for legislative regulations on the matter of pool safety as well. In Australia, for example, Leader Community News launched the ‘Make our Pools Safe’ campaign to highlight concerns around Victoria’s confusing system of pool fencing laws. Their request was to set up a pool register and to require home- owners to obtain a pool barrier compliance certificate when their property was sold or leased. There are also countries like New Zealand, which already have established regulations for home swimming pools in place. However, though states like Florida, and Arizona have created their own individual pool fence laws, there is no federal pool fence law currently in place in the US.
With each drowning incident involving a young child, it becomes a race against time to save a young life in his or her own home swimming pool. As statistics rise consistently, there is a need to not only have safety preparedness by the parents and the supervisors, but there is also a need to make legislative changes that make safety a must for all swimming pools at homes.