As school holidays are here and this means we as South Africans are spending a lot more time around the swimming pool I thought it might be useful to write a post about something we don’t like to think about but one which is critically important – the issue of Pool Safety for kids!
Parents and other adults in charge of small children for any period of time need to be reminded to make drowning prevention a clear priority during the festive season.
As a culture, South Africans love to swim. Nothing beats a braai around the pool on a hot summers day! BUT no one wants to be responsible for a tragedy in their pool. No parent wants to deal with drowning but unfortunately it is one of the highest causes of unnatural death amongst children and infants in South Africa! To think that for the most part these deaths are entirely preventable is so sad!
One of the scariest statistics is that, for every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage as a result of the prolonged lack of oxygen which occurs during a near drowning. It takes only four minutes without oxygen for irreversible brain damage to occur!
Drowning is one of the largest, quickest and quietest killers of our kids making it such an NB topic to educate ourselves around esp as these deaths are entirely preventable with the right combination of pool safety devices, adequate swimming skills and responsible parenting in the form of vigilant adult supervision around pools.
In recent months a new SABS process for new safety regulations has come into play. PowerPlastics Pool Covers and TopStep, the home of pool safety are two thought leaders on the topic of child drowning prevention and they recently shared some some practical tips to keep children safe from drowning accidents this summer.
“Pool owners need to ‘buy into’ the Legislation and understand the reasons for it before criticising. A swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child age 4 years and under. The sad reality is that many parents still see swimming as only a social skill, not a life skill. It requires a fundamental mind shift and consistent education if we are to lower these statistics,” says Stephen Doyle, co-ordinator of TopStep.
So here are the Top 10 Pool Safety tips to prevent drowning that every parent and pool owner should take note of….
1. Install adequate safety measures
All pools (or large water features) need to be secured if you have small children visiting the property. Even if you don’t have children, it is still necessary to consider safety for visitors. Families living in residential complexes with a communal pool should insist that their body corporate install a pool cover or fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Two barriers to entry are recommended such as a safety cover fitted by a reputable supplier AND a fence or surface wave or underwater sensor beam. Check swimming pool covers regularly for safety and replace them as soon as fastenings perish or break. Check the weight tolerance of any safety cover you purchase but discourage walking or playing on any pool cover. Do not consider thermal pool covers and leaf nets a safe barrier for children. If your children visit friends whose pools are not secure, urge the parent to fit a safety pool cover. If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install door alarms and always use them. For additional protection, install window guards on windows facing pools
2. Be vigilant around the pool
If your child has suddenly gone quiet or wandered off, check the pool first. Even a minute can make the difference between survival, irreversible brain damage and death. Never leave a child unattended near a pool. Remember that it is not only unsupervised children who drown, most drownings occur within 25 metres of an adult, so don’t get caught up in your book or conversation while the kids are swimming under your watch. Most toddler drowning deaths occur when parents’ attention is divided. Other siblings, preparing meals, and phone calls are just a few of the many distractions that can interfere with a parent’s supervision. In the time it takes to pour a drink, a child can drown! Take a cordless phone outside in case you get a phone call, or let the call go answered.
3. Spend money on swimming lessons – they are not a luxury!
Choose a swimming coach wisely. If you’re not comfortable with techniques being used, trust your gut instinct. Negative experiences in early childhood can have long-term impact. If your child develops a fear of water, don’t ignore this – a child who panics is at greater risk. Teach your child to swim fully clothed and with shoes on. Teach your child how to float and also how to retrieve objects from the bottom of the pool to build water confidence and teach breathing techniques. And remember a few swimming lessons won’t make a child drown-proof either!
4. Ensure child-minders know how to deal with a drowning situation
Ensure that every adult in the home knows CPR, including domestic workers. A good First Aid course is a worthwhile investment for parents and carers of small children. Never hire a baby sitter or au pair who can’t swim. As soon as a child is found in a pool, start CPR and do not stop before emergency services arrive on the scene. It can make the difference between a full recovery, brain damage and death!
FOR WHAT TO DO IN A DROWNING SITUATION READ THE 10 STEPS AT THE END OF THIS POST…
5. Be a good swimming role model
Children tend to copy adults so don’t be a clown and ban hooligan antics from your pool. Never allow an adult who has been drinking or is under the influence of sedative medication to supervise children in or near a pool. If you see other children being excessively foolish in the pool, chat to the parent or instruct the children yourself to get out of the pool. Children don’t enjoy teasing and often WILL jump in the fire if their friend tells them it is a good idea! Never under estimate the scope of peer pressure when it comes to risk taking. Even adults have fallen prey to this and after a few too many drinks the “who can hold their breath under the water for the longest” game has resulted in tragedy! Discourage your dogs from swimming as children and pets in a pool are not a good mix.
6. Inform your children
Teach your child what to do if they are in trouble – reach for the edge of the pool – or if they see another child in trouble – to call for help. Remind them that they should not try to help the victim themselves as this could put him/her at risk too.
7. Have set swimming rules
Have certain set swimming rules that are non-negotiable and repeat them as often as necessary until your children know the rules themselves and don’t push the boundaries (and eventually wear their parents out!) An obvious one is no swimming without an adult present, equally do not allow entry into the pool gated area to retrieve a toy without an adult. If your child is ill or on sedative medicine, do not allow swimming. Never allow swimming after dark. Once your children reach their teens they may be allowed to swim without adult supervision but then you may change the rules to be that they never let anyone swim alone.
8. Maintain the pool area
Don’t let pool levels drop. Keeping the pool topped up allows for small arms to easily grab the edge if needed. Remove large shrubs or plants around the edge of the pool so that children are easily visible from a few feet away. Use non-slip materials on the pool deck, diving board and ladders. Garden furniture, trees and shrubs should not be close enough to provide an easy boost over the fence.
9. Kids and Alcohol are never a good combo
This goes without saying but too often it’s adults who have been drinking throughout the day who are watching the kids in the pool and would be the ones responsible to attend to the child should an accident occur, which will obviously not be ideal! Children need constant supervision when they’re in, on, or around the water. If you’re at a party or gathering don’t assume that someone else is watching your child or children. It is all too possible that no one is. Nominate a designated ‘child supervisor’ and rotate the supervision responsibilities regularly. And when you are on duty be sure to avoid alcohol so that your reaction time will be good should you need to dive in!
10. Educate yourself on what drowning looks like
Many tragedies occur because those nearby think they know what a drowning in progress looks like – shouts for help, thrashing in the water, waving for help etc. In reality, drowning is quick and silent. The child shows no sign of violent struggle and remains upright in the water, often looking like they are just treading water or doing doggie paddle.
What to do in a drowning situation
1. Don’t become a casualty yourself! Use anything you can to get them out of the water, but don’t put your own safety at risk – you can’t help them if you yourself are in trouble.
2. Act quickly in order to help get oxygen to their brain and organs. The biggest killer in cases of drowning is a lack of oxygen in the body, and by the time you have got someone out of the water, that is going to be the critical matter to deal with. That is why rescue breaths should be performed before chest compressions in the case of victims of drowning.
3. Shout for help, esp if you are on your own, but don’t delay moving on to the lifesaving techniques. If there’s someone else with you, then get them to phone for help immediately.
4. Try to wake the casualty. Give them a good shake, or even pinch their earlobe. If they don’t show any signs of consciousness…
5. Lie them on their back and tilt their chin and head backwards to help clear their airway. This could be enough to get them to start breathing. Check if they’re breathing by leaning over them and placing your cheek near their mouth. LOOK along their chest as you do this to see if their chest is rising and falling, FEEL for breath on your cheek and LISTEN for breathing sounds. If there is no sign of breath then you should…
6. Give them 5 rescue breaths. Pinch their nose and keep their head tilted back as you breathe into their mouth from yours, making as good a seal as you can with your mouth over theirs. Each breath you give them should last 1 second, and make sure that you take a good deep breath yourself in between each one. These breaths will get valuable oxygen into their lungs, which is particularly important in a drowned casualty. After you’ve done 5 rescue breaths try…
7. Using both hands together, one on top of the other, push down right in the centre of their chest firmly, with your arms straight. Push down 5-6cm each time, twice a second (if it helps, try to do it to the rhythm of the song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the BeeGees as the beats in this are perfectly spaced for CPR). Do this for 1 minute (120 compressions).
8. If you are on your own, then once you’ve done 5 rescue breaths and one minute of CPR you can take the time to call the emergency services. Hopefully you will have helped get some oxygen to their brain.
9. Continue with 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths over and over again until they start breathing normally or help arrives (if there’s more than one of you then take it in turns).
10. If the person in trouble starts breathing normally again before help arrives, then roll them into the ‘recovery position’, lying on their side, with their top leg and arm bent to help prop them up, and their head tilted slightly back to help keep their airway open. If you’ve got any spare clothing to help keep them warm, then lay these over the top of them and talk to them to reassure them that help is on its way.
Most victims of drowning have not suffered a cardiac arrest which can be helped by the use of a defibrillator, although if you are somewhere where there is one available, then you can try it. Dry the skin you are attaching the defibrillator pads to as much as possible, but there’s no need to worry about problems or extra hazards from using the defibrillator in wet conditions. It is more important, however, to help get oxygen around the body, so certainly give rescue breaths and CPR first.