Drowning is one of those things most people don’t spend much time contemplating unless it directly affects them. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children 1-4 years and the second leading cause for children 1-14 years. Drowning is also preventable.
Preventing drowning can be accomplished by adhering to multiple strategies, known as “layers of protection.” It’s similar to layering clothing in cold weather to protect you from the elements. Essentially, it means that adults, including parents, caregivers, residential and commercial pool owners, and operators, must employ tactics to ensure everyone, especially children, is safe and protected in the water.
The 5 Layers of Protection To Prevent Drowning
- Active Supervision
A designated adult must actively supervise children when in or near water. Active supervision requires a laser focus on children — no texting messages, answering calls on your cell phone, reading, or searching through your bag for supplies. When supervising young children, they should be within arm’s length from you at all times.
Adults also need to be aware of all possible dangers in any environment involving water, including while vacationing, on a beach, on a boat trip, visiting friends, or at a community pool.
It only takes a few seconds for disaster to strike, so even a brief chat with someone means you can’t effectively watch children in or near the water. Constant supervision is the only way to keep children safe in and around water.
- Swimming and Water Safety Lessons
Although knowing how to swim won’t magically safeguard anyone from drowning, learning how to swim can reduce the risk of drowning among children one to four years of age by 88%.
Pediatricians recommend that many children older than one year will benefit from swim lessons. However, they are not recommended for children under one because children this young are not developmentally able to learn breathing techniques. Your pediatrician can help determine if your child is developmentally ready for lessons.
Several organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and municipal and neighborhood pools, offer low-cost lessons, financial assistance, and even free swimming lessons.
- Emergency Preparedness
Would you know what to do if you found an unresponsive child in the water? The skills and knowledge to respond to an emergency are a crucial layer of protection against drowning.
Adults responsible for protecting children in or near water should always have a telephone they can quickly access to call for help. They should also learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Check with your local American Red Cross chapter, community organizations, and YMCAs for classes and CPR certification.
If you have a pool, it is imperative to have rescue equipment on site, including a reaching and throwing device for quick rescues, and a well-stocked first aid kit. It’s also a good idea to post CPR instructions. Pool owners should also take a local water safety course to learn proper rescue techniques.
- Physical Barriers and Alarms
Several physical barriers provide a significant layer of protection to prevent drowning. While barriers are not completely child-proof, they can restrict access to the pool or spa. In addition, barriers make it more challenging for a young child to gain access, giving adults additional time to locate a child before disaster strikes.
Limit pool or spa area entry with fences, latches, and gates. Prevent children from entering the water with pool and spa safety covers (power-operated, semi-automatic, or manual), pool safety nets, or winter safety covers.
Alarms can be attached to pool gates, doors, and windows to alert an adult when a barrier has been breached.
- Life Jackets
Accidents happen, and when they happen, wearing a life jacket can be the difference between a mishap and a catastrophe. Wearing a United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved life vest is an essential layer of protection in and around natural bodies of water or boating. They can also be valuable for children who lack water competency. However, life jackets are only effective when they fit correctly.
Everyone Can Help Prevent Drowning
Enjoying a day at the beach, by the pool, boating, or playing water sports can be fun and relaxing, but only if everyone’s safe. Using the five layers of protection is an excellent way to ensure that water activities don’t end in tragedy.
Together we can end the heartache of losing a loved one due to drowning. Take our Water Safety Challenge to measure your family’s water safety competence, and help us provide water safety outreach to schools and community groups to keep everyone safe.