Preventive Medicine is a board-certified specialty of medical practice that focuses on the health of individuals, communities and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability and death. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss tips for staying safe in and around the water this summer and always.
It’s summertime, and many fun activities involve pools, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Hanging out at the pool can be one of the best ways to beat the summer heat. Unfortunately, without proper safety precautions these water activities can have bad outcomes.
Approximately 10 people die from drowning every day in the summer in the U.S. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of death for persons aged 5-24. Let’s talk about great ways to be safe and have fun this summer involving water activities.
The most important thing you can do to be water safe is to make sure you and your family can swim. There are great swimming classes in every community. Check with the Red Cross, YMCA/YWCA, local pools, community centers and swimming centers in your area for a schedule of age-appropriate, certified swimming classes for everyone in the family.
Children six months of age or older can be taught to swim. Remember, swimming lessons are great, but they don’t make anyone “drowning-proof.”
Make water safety a top priority
- For public pools and beaches, swim in specially designated areas that are supervised by lifeguards. Remember, lifeguards are not babysitters; you need to watch your children.
- Use the “buddy swimming system.” Always swim with a friend or buddy. Never swim alone in any area, be it a pool, lake, or another body of water. Always swim with a buddy. This includes adults.
- Never allow a young child to be left unattended near water without adult supervision. This also means not allowing another child to supervise a child. Teach all children to ask and get permission before getting near water.
- Everyone in a boat should wear approved life jackets. This is especially important for adults. The majority of drownings for adults are those who did not use life jackets. Everyone should wear life jackets while boating.
- Make sure that swimmers stay away from all pool drains and suction ports and that the water is clear and you can see the bottom of the pool and drains.
- Even if you are not swimming, be extremely careful around water such as rivers, lakes, and shorelines. Cold water, underwater currents and hazards can make accidentally falling into these areas dangerous, too.
- If you find yourself in a strong current, don’t panic, relax, and swim parallel to the shore until the current diminishes. If you can’t swim, don’t go in the water without a strong swimming partner or teacher.
Do not use alcohol. Alcohol affects judgment and coordination. A person under the influence can’t swim or drive functionally, and when a person is under the influence of alcohol, their body can’t maintain a functional, normal body temperature for very long. Alcohol consumption is a factor in over half of all boating and teenage pool associated drownings.
Prevent unsupervised access to the swimming pools. If you have a pool, install barriers around the pool (or hot tub) and add pool covers for an additional layer of protection. The fence should be at least four feet tall with locking capabilities. The gates should be self-closing and self-locking and open away from the pool or hot tub. The handle should be high enough so that a small child cannot reach it.
When anyone is swimming, there must be constant and uninterrupted adult supervision. This supervision means no distractions, including cell phones or books. Drowning can take a matter of seconds and is often silent.
There must be a total focus for adult supervisors. If necessary, use a rotational system so adults can trade off when supervising to avoid fatigue. Maintain a designated adult supervisor for pools and lakes at all times. Do this even if there is a lifeguard present.
According to AbbysHope.org, 88 percent of the time there is an adult nearby, but not fully attentive, during a child’s drowning. There is no such thing as too much supervision when it comes to water safety with children swimming.
If there is no one to supervise, swim later when there is. Never dive into a pool except from a designated diving board.
Be prepared to respond quickly and appropriately if the situation demands.
If a child is missing, scan the pool and water first. Death or disability can mean acting within a matter of seconds. Have the ability to quickly call 9-1-1 if needed. Keep a cell phone at the ready.
Have the appropriate safety equipment poolside, including a floating throw ring, long-reach pole, life jackets and a first aid kit. Never jump into the pool to rescue, which only puts two people at risk. Call out for help as loud as you can and throw anyone in trouble something that floats or extend a pole to them to grab. Scream repeatedly for help.
Sign up for Red Cross or YMCA home pool safety, water first aid, water safety and cardiac response courses to respond best to emergency pools situations. These courses will help prevent water emergencies and establish a set of actions to most effectively respond to water emergencies.
Finally, there is a new threat called “electric shock drowning.” This occurs around fresh water docks with power cords going to boats. The electricity can leak from the boats into the water and cause electric shock drowning. There have been many such confirmed drowning deaths.
If you purchase a boat, make sure that it has an equipment leakage circuit interrupter (ELCI). This very much like the ground fault current interrupter (GFCI) outlet required in all residential bathrooms and kitchens. Have this installed in the shore-power circuit of the boat and consider using a floating electric shock warning device in the water around the dock and boats.
The best advice to avoid “electric shock drowning” is to avoid swimming near any docks with electric power.
Water fun on a warm, sunny day can create wonderful memories. With attentive supervision, swimming skills, basic water safety precautions, and the use of a buddy system, these can be wonderful experiences free of tragic outcomes.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.