The Pool Safety Resource: The Commonsense Approach to Keeping Children Safe around Water

The Pool Safety Resource: The Commonsense Approach to Keeping Children Safe around Water

by Geoff Dawson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450294447
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/20/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 2 MB

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The Pool Safety Resource

A Commonsense Approach to Keeping Children Safe around Water
By Geoff Dawson

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Geoff Dawson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-9443-0

Chapter One

The Problem of Childhood Drowning

Isn't it ironic that doctors and scientists worldwide work around the clock, spending millions of dollars every year, to discover vaccines and treatments to prevent and cure the things that ail us, and yet as deadly as water can be, we don't need a doctor or a scientist to find a cure for drowning? All we need is for every parent, caregiver, and pool owner to think and act responsibly to keep our children safe. Each and every one of us has the power to save lives from this unforgiving killer.

I was once called by a radio station to provide a pool safety perspective after four-year-old twins both fell into a pool after being left with their nine-year-old sibling. The older child had reentered the home, leaving the twins outside next to an unprotected pool. It is not known which child entered the pool first or whether they did so voluntarily or by accident. Both children were found in the pool. Neither survived.

Pick up a newspaper or surf the web on any given day and, chances are, you will read about a drowning or a near drowning. A typical report will describe a victim between one and four years of age who is usually in the care of a family member in his own home and who, after a breakdown in supervision, manages to find his way unnoticed to the pool area, where he is discovered just minutes later. How many seconds or minutes later this discovery occurs is the primary factor in determining whether the victim lives or dies.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 4,200 emergency-department-treated submersion injuries per year (average between 2007 and 2009) and an average of 385 fatalities per year (average between 2005 and 2007). This means that drowning is the number two ranking cause of accidental death in the United States as a whole. In eighteen states, it ranks number one. According to the Houston Chronicle, in 2009, more than one hundred children died in Texas alone.

Survivors of a near drowning may have to live with varying consequences for the rest of their lives. These consequences can range from minimal motor-skill impairment to living in a vegetative state requiring round-the-clock care and feeding though tubes. Safe Kids USA estimates put the health care cost of drowning survivors around 16 billion dollars annually.

Beyond the tragedy of the victim, a drowning or a near drowning destroys lives, marriages, friendships, careers, finances, and hopes for the future. There are no warnings and no developing symptoms. One minute, it's a day like any other; the next, a world is turned upside down. Consider the following true story described by Mason's mother, Jenna. She and her husband Paul moved to Florida in September 2005 and a few months later became pregnant with their first child. Jenna continues ...

We purchased a house and settled in. Mason was not quite two when we decided to install an aboveground pool, looking forward to the family time we would be spending in the water. I have always been very safety conscience, and an aboveground pool was not only much more cost-effective, it just seemed safer. I researched safety devices and was able to find a fence/gate system that attaches to the walls of the pool extending them upwards another two feet. It was on my list of to-dos. But I wasn't overly worried. Though our pool was partially inset, it was still just about as tall as our son—he couldn't just fall in (even if he was running and tripped, he wouldn't fall in). "Besides," I thought, "we NEVER leave him alone in the backyard and God forbid something happen, we both know CPR and one or both of us is always right here.

I will order it as soon as we get our tax refund." It was 1:12 p.m. on a beautiful day in March when I kissed my son goodbye and headed for work. I turned to him and said, "Oh, you better finish lunch up, you're late, late, late for naptime." I waved good-bye, blew him another kiss, and off to work I went. That was the last time I would see my little boy alive. It was a routine afternoon. My husband, Mason, and our dog were playing in the backyard. Our four-month-old was asleep for her last nap of the day. When she awoke they all trotted in to get her but, for some reason, my husband didn't close the door behind him. During the few moments it took to get our little girl up, Mason and the dog ran back outside. My husband's ears perked up, but he wasn't overly concerned. He was heading right back out there and Mason didn't go near the pool. (He was afraid of the big pool.) Besides, it was an above-ground pool with no ladder. When it suddenly became quiet my husband glanced outside, expecting to see our son crouched down staring at a bug of some kind, as he so often did. What he saw instead was our little boy floating facedown in the pool. He sprang into action, began CPR, called for help, called 9-1-1. They were unable to revive my little boy. He was rushed to the hospital just before I got home from work and pronounced dead, about an hour after he had fallen into the pool.

Though we will never know exactly why he went over to the pool, investigators believe he was imitating the dog getting a drink from the pool. He had pulled himself up, leaned over the edge, and then fell in. I now know there is so much we could have done to prevent this tragedy. What I didn't know and what I misunderstood about drowning prevention directly lead to my son's death. Mason's drowning was preventable.

This story is one that is tragically replayed in homes across America every day of the year and that the Roisum family, like so many others, may never fully come to terms with.

When I attend safety events, I encounter parents who, it seems, would rather not talk about pool safety. I can't say why people would not want to talk about something this important. Maybe it scares them. Maybe they think they are not at risk. Maybe they think they have done all they can and don't need to have the conversation. Whatever the reason, I feel like I have missed an opportunity to have a parent review her own pool security, if only in her own mind.

Our attitudes about aquatic safety have a tremendous impact on lowering swimming pool risk because attitudes affect behaviors and our behaviors affect outcomes. Many pool owners seem to have an unchecked attitude of nonchalance, rarely thinking of the potential dangers associated with their actions. Experiences from our own childhoods certainly affect the formations of our attitudes and the way we perceive aquatic risks. Some of us grew up around water, swimming in the local lake or river, and can't even remember learning to swim. Many of our attitudes are subjective in that they are not based on facts but rather on personal experience.

Many of us, myself included, have moved to Florida after having grown up in a colder climate where exposure to so much water at such a young age is uncommon. Before my son took swimming lessons, I clearly remember downplaying the risk in my own mind—as well as underestimating what he could learn to do in the pool. The pool at our new home was relatively small—no more than ten feet to any edge. I truly did not appreciate that a child falling into a pool is usually just a few inches from the side or even that an infant can drown in just inches of water. In short, I simply wasn't looking at our aquatic environment with safety as my number one priority. We were lucky.

Not everyone downplays the risks knowingly. For some, the reality of losing a child in the blink of an eye is such a stretch to imagine and, in truth, too painful to imagine that some parents simply can't comprehend the risk. When we hear about a drowning in the news, a common response is to assume the accident happened as a direct result of "unfit" parenting. Sadly, pool accidents happen in the best of families all the time. Parents who consider themselves loving, responsible, and vigilant fall victim to this horrible tragedy just as often as "bad" parents. Furthermore, this type of accident knows no socioeconomic boundaries.

Sure, a breakdown in supervision can happen at any time. A breakdown in supervision, together with a lack of additional measures of protection in the face of such a risk, is negligent. It is not the momentary breakdown of supervision at the time of the accident that demonstrates the negligence, but rather the negligence is the living from day to day with such an obvious threat without taking the steps needed to keep children safe. Statistically, a family owning a pool is a much greater risk to a child than that family owning a gun.

Some parents who are friends of mine know what I do. I used to feel like asking friends about the precautions they were taking could be interpreted as invasive or as touting my services. Then, in the spring of 2008, an incident happened that urged me to write this book. My son (then eight years old) was spending the day at a friend's home while I was installing a pool fence nearby. I had to return home to pick up an extra piece of material, and as I was leaving the subdivision, I encountered a fire truck and an ambulance heading my way with lights flashing and sirens blaring. As I looked in my rearview mirror, I realized that they were heading down the street toward where my son was staying. My heart rate quickened instantly, and I doubled back to check. I was horrified to see them pull up right outside his friend's house. Doors flew open, and the dad came running out with his youngest son, age two, in his arms, closely followed by the mother. The paramedics got to work immediately, and I found myself watching this scene, attempting to comfort the boy's distraught mother and thinking, How could I have let this happen?

As we waited anxiously outside the ambulance, she told me between tears that they had found their son floating facedown in the pool. They have no idea how he reached the pool unnoticed; both parents were at home. In the end, they were extremely lucky. Though he spent two days in the hospital for observation, their son recovered fully. But before he came home, his parents asked me to install an alarm on the sliding glass door and a fence around the pool. As soon as their son was given medical clearance, he was enrolled in swimming lessons with me. That fateful yet blessed day, I challenged myself to do everything I could to get the word out about pool safety.

Occasionally I receive an inquiry for my services after what I call a wake-up call event. Perhaps the child of the people who are inquiring was found close to the pool after evading supervision or, as in one case, an older sibling thought it okay to take the younger child to the pool to play.

Many times when I talk to parents about pool safety, I hear something like "Well, back when we were kids, we didn't have all these gadgets and precautions, and we survived." We have many perceptions about how few precautions we took back then—riding in the car without a seat belt, riding a bike without a helmet, riding bikes more on the roads than on footpaths, etc. Risks have certainly changed; our cars go faster, and there are a lot more of them on the roads. Just because we got away with it and survived doesn't make it better or smart.

A child's risk from swimming pools has certainly evolved over the years. Thirty years ago, owning a pool was considered a luxury and, for many, swimming was only possible at the public pool where a lifeguard was on duty. Today, in many states, pool ownership is the norm. Pools are being squeezed onto smaller lots and are being pushed ever closer to the house. While many more of us have this threat right outside the back door, many of us fail to recognize it as such.

Another comment I often hear is "I love my kids more than anything and never let them out of my sight." It's true that, statistically, the chance of a child drowning in the United States is a long shot. However, statistics can lull us even further into a false sense of security; rarely do they give us the full picture. The official numbers only reflect actual deaths by drowning. As might be expected, the warmer states, such as Florida and California, lead the United States in drowning deaths.

Just how likely it is that a child will drown in a swimming pool? These numbers from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission offer a sobering reality check:

• Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between one and three years old.

• Boys between one and three years old were the most likely victims of fatal drowning and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.

• Most of the victims were being supervised by one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.

• Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23 percent of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio or in the yard. This means that fully 69 percent of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool but were found drowned or submerged in the water.

• Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim's immediate family, and 33 percent of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.

• Fewer than two percent of pool accidents resulted from children trespassing on property where they didn't live or belong.

• Seventy-seven percent of swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or fewer when they were found in the pool drowned or submerged.

• Nevertheless, for every child who drowns, there are four or five incidents in which a child is treated in the hospital after nearly drowning. Uncounted are the numbers of children who fell into a pool and survived, who were lucky enough to be rescued within moments.

Recently, I attended a local Drowning Prevention Task Force press conference. One of the presenters was the county medical examiner who gave an account of just what happens during drowning. Understanding what happens to our bodies during a drowning should help people realize just how quickly irreversible damage to major organs can occur.

When a person is submerged in water, holding his breath is the natural response. Holding his breath causes blood levels of carbon dioxide to increase, which in turn causes a desperate need to take a breath. When the need to breathe can no longer be suppressed, water is inhaled, causing an involuntary spasm of the vocal cords as the body fights to protect its airways. Within a few minutes, oxygen levels in the blood drop to the point that the victim loses consciousness. Typically, the loss of consciousness allows liquid to be inhaled into the lungs as a result of a relaxation of the vocal cord spasms. The amount of liquid inhaled under these circumstances varies from victim to victim, but even amounts as small as one milliliter per kilogram of bodyweight can cause significant lung injury. In other cases, the vocal cord spasms persist, preventing the entry of liquid into the lungs. Despite this protective mechanism, the body's involuntary attempts to take in a breath may still damage the delicate air sacs, called alveoli, deep within the lungs. The damaged alveoli fill up with body fluids that come directly from the disruption of small capillaries in their paper thin walls. This is commonly referred to as a dry drowning.

A victim can be rescued at any time during the drowning process. If he is rescued quickly, he may not require any serious medical attention. On the other hand, even when the drowning process is interrupted early, serious complications may arise. The most frequent serious complication in cases in which the submersion time is brief is persistently low blood oxygen levels. This is the result of inhaled water, or accumulated body fluid in the case of dry drowning, interfering with the exchange of gases deep within the lungs. This condition, known as hypoxia, may require aggressive treatment in a hospital setting. The most disastrous consequences of drowning involve permanent damage to vital organs from oxygen deprivation. The brain is the most oxygen dependant of the vital organs, and death of brain tissue may start within minutes of not being able to breathe. Finally, continued oxygen deprivation causes lethal arrhythmias in the heart and subsequent death from cardiopulmonary arrest.

Whenever symptoms are present after a drowning event—such as unconsciousness, confusion, lethargy, coughing, or shortness of breath—medical attention should be sought without delay.


Excerpted from The Pool Safety Resource by Geoff Dawson Copyright © 2011 by Geoff Dawson. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 The Problem of Childhood Drowning....................1
Chapter 2 Understanding, Evaluating, and Mitigating Risks....................11
Chapter 3 Building Up Layers of Protection....................34
Chapter 4 Constructing a Safe New Pool....................66
Chapter 5 Providing Aquatic Survival Skills and Swimming Lessons....................76
Chapter 6 Establishing and Communicating Pool Rules....................101
Chapter 7 Enjoying the Pool Safely....................109
Chapter 8 Preparing for Emergencies....................121
Be a Pool Safety Advocate....................127
Additional Resources....................129

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