Safer swimming

July 18, 2005

THE MOST common way for a child to be injured and die is in a vehicle crash. But can you name the second-most-common cause? It's drowning. In an average year, more than 1,400 children and teens will drown, not counting boating-related accidents or the many who suffer brain damage or other long-term disability from submersion. Statistically, these youngsters are more likely to be boys than girls. And black children drown at 2.6 times the rate of white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

July and August are especially dangerous months simply because summer is the height of swim season. Yet many of these deaths and serious injuries could be avoided if some relatively minor precautions were taken. They range from the obvious - such as maintaining a secure, 4-foot fence around a pool and having an adult closely watching young swimmers - to the less evident (but equally sensible) advice of clearing the pool of toys when it's not in use so errant toddlers aren't tempted to reach from poolside for a plaything.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adults properly equip backyard pools with a life preserver or hook and learn CPR. But the organization also stresses the need to educate children on the ground rules of swimming and boating and make sure they are obeyed. That includes never diving unless authorized by an adult, not using inflatable devices in water deeper than waist-level, and making sure they wear lifejackets when in a boat or in a river or stream.

It's devastating for any family when a child dies, but a preventable death is all the more tragic. No parent would let a child play unsupervised with a gun or a knife, yet neither is any more dangerous than an unattended swimming pool - or, for that matter, a bathtub with a young child even briefly left alone.

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