Water safety paramount to good times by pool

Published 8:41 pm Wednesday, June 9, 2010

With summer here for thousands of Suffolk schoolchildren, safety officials are encouraging proper supervision and safety measures around pools and other bodies of water.

More children in Virginia drown in swimming pools than in any other location, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. Over the past 11 years, about 50 percent of the 172 swimming pool drownings in Virginia occurred in children ages 14 and younger.

“Probably the most important thing, especially when you’re dealing with young children, is that they are always supervised around a body of water,” said Heather Board, an unintentional injury prevention program director at the Virginia Department of Health. “Children can drown in an instant, and contrary to popular belief, it tends to be a very silent drowning. There’s not a lot of splashing.”

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Adults supervising children in a pool should be free of distractions, Board said. The health department recommends one adult be designated the “water watcher” to keep a close eye on the children in the pool.

“There’s a difference between supervision and actively supervising,” Board said. A “water watcher” should not have side conversations with other adults, talk on the phone or leave the immediate area, she said. “They’re really paying close attention.”

In addition to close supervision, all pools should have a phone readily accessible in case there is a need to call emergency services. Barrier methods such as a fence with a self-closing gate also are important.

However, it’s not just in-ground pools that can pose a danger — because children can drown in as little as an inch of water, landscape ponds and “kiddie” pools also are a threat to young children, Board said.

“When they’re not being used, water should not be left in them,” Board said of small inflatable and plastic pools. “They should be emptied immediately after they’re used.”

For children who go to a public pool or visit a friend’s pool, parents should ask if the pool’s drain is compliant with the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which was signed into law in December 2007. The law was meant to regulate the kind of drains that can be used in pools, because old drains caused so much suction that they could trap body parts, hair and clothing, causing serious injury or drowning death.

At a public pool, the best thing to do is ask the manager if the drain is compliant, Board said. Most drains now sold in pool and spa stores comply with the act, Board said.

Even adults can be at risk for drowning in pools if they cannot swim, are swimming alone or are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, Board said.

“Mixing alcohol and water is obviously not a good combination,” she said.

According to Lisa Harrell with the Suffolk chapter of the American Red Cross, people should never rely on toys such as inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat. In addition, on larger bodies of water, wearing a life jacket at all times and keeping a close eye on weather conditions can help keep you and your loved ones safe.

For more information on water safety, call Harrell at 539-6645.