How to stay safe and cool at the beach or by a pool


June 01, 1993|By Dr. Genevieve Matanoski | Dr. Genevieve Matanoski,Contributing Writer

Memorial Day has come and gone and summer is here. Sailboats and windsurfers are out on the bay, paddling pools are appearing in back yards, and city and neighborhood pools are getting ready for the long, hot months ahead. Summer means water and water sports, from power boat racing to water-skiing.

Sadly, it's also a time when many accidents occur on the water. About 6,500 people drown in the United States each year. Drowning is the fourth leading cause of accidental death, and for ages 5 to 24 is second only to death due to motor vehicles. Almost two thirds of drownings occur between May and August.

I spoke with Susan Baker, co-director of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Injury Prevention Center, and asked for advice about ensuring a safe summer.

My child goes to the pool almost every day with the baby sitter. What advice should I give about safety in the pool?

The golden rule is never to let the child out of sight. It is easy with all the noise and activity around a pool to be distracted, but it only takes a second for a toddler to fall in the water. Baby pools are just as dangerous. In fact, infants and toddlers have been known to drown in buckets or pails at home and in the bath. What about my teen-age children? They often swim in lakes and creeks with their friends. Is that dangerous?

It can be. Drowning rates for males begin to climb in early adolescence. A large number of summer drownings occur in lakes, quarries or canals rather than at pools or beaches where there is usually a lifeguard and adult supervision. Another risk factor is the combination of alcohol and swimming. In a recent study of accidental drownings in Maryland, we found that alcohol was present in the blood of 47 percent of individuals over the age of 15 who drowned in Baltimore. The message for your teen-ager should be: Drinking like a fish doesn't make you one -- don't drink before you swim.

What kinds of safety precautions should I take for my family by the pool and when we're out on the bay?

The first step is to make sure everyone learns to swim as soon as possible, and when you are out in a boat, everyone, including the swimmers, should wear a life jacket. It's interesting that drowning among water skiers is relatively unusual, probably because of the common practice of wearing life belts. Another tip to bear in mind is to wear clearly visible swimwear, perhaps incorporating phosphorescent material. Often, drownings occur because the victim rapidly disappears from view and can't be located under the water.

What about safety at home?

If you have a pool, make sure it is completely surrounded with child-proof fencing, and never let your child near a pool without adult supervision. Drownings have been caused in the past when children have had their hair caught in the drains of jacuzzis and pools, so make sure drains are covered and encourage your children to wear swim hats. Teach your children about water safety.

What can I do to be prepared for a drowning incident?

Learn CPR -- cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If CPR is administered immediately, the chance of survival is much greater than if you wait for a rescue squad. The whole family should keep up-to-date with CPR training, particularly if you have a pool at home or spend a lot of time in water activities. The American Red Cross regularly offers CPR courses. For more information call the Red Cross at (410) 764-7000.

Dr. Matanoski is a physician and professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

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