Water Safety: Always be aware

Safety | May 24, 2019
kids splashing in water
Use several "layers" of defense to safeguard your water babies

Swimming, playing and splashing in the water are among the great joys of childhood, especially in the summertime when temperatures heat up. But it’s important to remember that these activities — and others that occur around water — can quickly turn dangerous or even deadly.

Dr. Jim Bochsler, a PeaceHealth pediatrician, has provided medical care during his career for a number of children who have nearly drowned or tragically did not survive a water-related incident.

Dr. Jim Bochsler, PeaceHealth pediatrician“In one case, a little boy had climbed into an above-ground pool when he was out of sight of the people taking care of him for only a few minutes,” he says. He was later found in the pool, heartbreakingly too late.

Unfortunately, this kind of story isn’t unique. It’s one of the reasons Dr. Bochsler feels strongly about making sure parents are well aware of the risks and dangers of even a small amount of water.

“Most of the time, drowning is preventable,” he says. “Parents can often underestimate their children’s ability to get into places where there is water. Children can climb ladders and open unsecured gates. Even toddlers can get into places that their parent doesn’t realize they can.”

Drowning is third-leading cause of death

The statistics prove this is true. Nationwide, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths among children ages 5 to 19 years old. In 2017 alone, nearly 1,000 children died from drowning and 8,700 visited a hospital emergency room because of a drowning event.

To bring attention to this critical public safety issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its recommendations to prevent drowning in children.

Top of the advice list:  Always pay attention

At the top of the list is some simple advice for parents that packs a lot of punch: Always pay attention.

“No one expects their child to drown,” says Kimberly Ruscher, MD, a PeaceHealth pediatric surgeon. “It happens when people aren’t paying attention. It only takes a few minutes for an infant or toddler to get into trouble.”

AAP offers the following recommendations:

  • Parents and caregivers should never leave children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas or other open water.
  • Adults should empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use.
  • Do not leave young children alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks can prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • When infants or toddlers are in or around the water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be within an arm’s length, providing constant “touch supervision.”
  • Even with older children and better swimmers, the supervising adult should focus on the child and not be engaged with other distracting activities.

Use multiple layers of protection

Knowing how to swim doesn’t guarantee safety. Multiple layers of protection should be used to prevent drowning because it is unlikely that any single strategy will prevent drowning deaths and injuries.

Dr. Kimberly Ruscher, PeaceHealth pediatrician“Swim lessons are not enough; just because a child knows how to swim, it doesn’t mean they are competent to handle any kind of water-related situation,” Dr. Ruscher notes. “Once they’ve learned basic swim skills, they should also learn to wear a life jacket, how to recognize if someone is in distress, how to dial 9-1-1, and — when old enough — how to perform CPR.”

This is an approach that the AAP refers to as the “drowning chain of survival.”

The chain begins with taking preventative steps like those listed above and continues with knowing the signs that indicate a person could be drowning.

“They may not be waving their arms. Pay close attention. Watch their facial expressions and body movements,” Dr. Ruscher says. “If someone looks like they are in distress, provide them with a flotation device, remove the person from the water — if it is safe to do so — and provide care as needed.”

Stay vigilant year-round

Drs. Ruscher and Bochsler encourage parents to keep these drowning prevention tips in mind all-year-round.

“Losing a child in any manner is devastating, but especially so if it is sudden and accidental in a way that may have been prevented,” Dr. Bochsler says. “Drowning remains too common and following these guidelines can really decrease the number of tragic events.”

Read the AAP’s revised drowning prevention guidelines.

Photo:  Dr. Jim Bochsler, PeaceHealth pediatrician

Photo:  Dr. Kimberly Ruscher was an exhibitor at the recent Family Safety Fair, in Springfield, Oregon. Presented by Safe Kids West Oregon and sponsored by PeaceHealth, the community event focused on providing information about how to prevent accidents and injuries, including drowning.