Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding partner
Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer vacation season for many families. Children’s excitement mounts as they count down the days until school is over and the neighborhood swimming pool opens. Unfortunately, though, it is also the season during which many children will needlessly drown. Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related child-deaths in America, and they can and should be avoided.
“From 2000 to 2006, drowning was the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among US children between 1 and 19 years of age,” according to statistics provided in the recent Policy Statement – Prevention of Drowning issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, “in 2008, approximately 3800 children younger than 20 years visited a hospital emergency department for a nonfatal drowning event, and more than 60% of those children were hospitalized.”
Operators of pool must be properly staffed and trained. I have represented many families of children who drowned because lifeguards were not staffed, who were distracted and unfocused on their job, and who were grossly untrained in CPR and other life-saving techniques.
Doctors can also help families be safe. The July, 2010 issue of Pediatrics provides guidelines for pediatricians to alert parents and caregivers to the dangers that water presents at different ages and in different situations.
“In addition to providing generic water-safety advice, pediatricians can provide some specific targeted messages to children identified as having special risks of drowning:
- Parents and caregivers need to be advised that they should never – even for a moment – leave small children alone or in the care of another young child while in bathtubs, pools, spas, or wading pools or near irrigation ditches or other open standing water.
- Whenever infants and toddlers (or weak swimmers) are in or around water, be it a pool or an open body of water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be in the water, within an arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.” Supervision needs to be be close, constant, and capable.
- Pediatricians are encouraged to identify families who have residential (home and apartment complex) swimming pols and include periodic drowning-prevention counseling during routine health visits.
- Families can also be advised to consider supplemental pool alarms and rigid pool covers as additional layers of protection; however, neither alarms nor pool covers are a substitute for adequate fencing. It is important to note that some types of pool covers, such as thin plastic solar covers, should not be used as a means of protection, because children may try to walk on the cover, fall into the pool, and be hidden from view.
- Body entrapment and hair entanglement in pool and spa drains were recently recognized as potential dangers to children. Entrapment and entanglement can be prevented by the use of special drain covers, SVRSs, filter pumps with multiple drains, and a variety of other pressure-venting, filter-construction techniques.
- Children need to learn to swim. The AAP continues to support swimming lessons for most children 4 years old and older. . . . A parent’s decision about starting swimming lessons or water-survival skills training at an early age must be individualized on the basis of the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional maturity, physical limitations, and health concerns related to swimming pools (i.e. hypothermia, hyponatremia, infectious illness, and lung damage from pool chemicals). Parents should be reminded that swimming lessons will not provide “drown-proofing” for children of any age.
- Parents, caregivers, and pool owners should learn CPR and keep a telephone and equipment approved by the US Coast Guard (e.s life buoys, life jackets, and a reach tool such as a shepherd’s crook) at poolside.
- Parents should be cautioned not to use air-filled swimming aids (such as inflatable arm bands) in place of PFDs (life jackets).
- All children should be required to wear an approved PFD whenever they are riding in watercraft. Small children and non-swimmers should use PFDs when they are at the water’s edge, such as along a river bank of on a dock or pier.
- Parents and children need to understand that jumping or diving into water can result in injury.
- When selecting an open body of water in which their children will swim, parents should select sites with lifeguards. Even for the strongest of swimmers, it is important to consider weather, tides,waves, and water currents in selecting a safe location for recreational swimming.
- When swimming or taking a bath, children of any age with seizure disorders should be closely supervised by an adult at all times.
- Counseling parents and adolescents about water safety provides an opportunity to warn them about the increased drowning rates that result from impairment of a swimmer or watercraft occupant when alcohol or illicit drugs are used.”
Listed below are other resources that are available that address water safety for children:
- American Academy of Pediatrics – The Injury Prevention Program (TIPP) – materials for parents about home water hazards for children;
- Safe Kids USA – information about pools and hot tubs, drain covers, SVRSs to prevent entrapment, safety checklists, links to national research study about pool safety;
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – water-related injuries fact sheet, CDC research and information on water safety and water-related illnesses and injuries;
- Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – safety-barrier guidelines for home pools and brochure about preventing childhood drowning;
- US Coast Guard – detailed information and tip sheets about vessel safety checks, approved on-line boating safety courses, and beach safety.
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About the author:
Mr. Zambri is a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. and has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a “Big Gun” and among the “top 1%” of all lawyers in the Washington metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as “one of Washington’s best–most honest and effective lawyers” who specializes in personal injury matters, including serious truck and car collisions. Mr. Zambri has also been repeatedly named a “Super Lawyer” by Law and Politics magazine–a national publication that honors the top lawyers in America.
Mr. Zambri is regularly asked to give presentations to lawyers and businesses regarding premises liability cases, product defects, medical malpractice, automobile accident litigation, and safety improvements.
Many Americans are killed or critically injured each year as a result of the negligent operation of pools and clubs. If you want more information about your legal rights, please email Mr. Zambri at [email protected] or call him at 202-822-1899.