Why is water and pool safety so important?
Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death for children younger than five in the United States, and rates are highest among 1- to 2-year-olds. . The risks of drowning are different for children of different ages and in different settings. Find out more about drowning risks.
Other risks in and around water include spinal cord injuries from diving, contagious illness spread through swimming water, and boating safety. Read on to find out more.
When is it safe to get a swimming pool in our yard?
Swimming pools are the number one drowning risk for preschoolers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)recommends against putting a swimming pool in your yard until your children are all over five years old. Children tend to slip silently into the water when they drown. They do not usually splash or make a sound. A child can drown silently within 30 seconds.
- Swimming Pools: Staying Safe While Having Fun—from the AAP.
- Most importantly, do not leave young children alone near water, not even with other children, not even for just a second.
- If a child is missing, always look first in the pool. Seconds count!
- Whenever your young child is in or around the water, an adult should be within arm's reach.
- Never swim alone.
- Do not use a diving board in a pool that is not approved for it.
- Above ground pools are usually not deep enough for diving.
- Never dive into water unless an adult okay’s the depth.
- Always use a Coast Guard approved life vest when boating, fishing, skiing, or playing in or near a stream or river.
- Young children should not use pool slides.
- Do not horse around by holding someone under the water.
- Never pretend to call for help in fun.
- Do not let a child use floating toys in water above their waist.
- Remove toys when pool is not in use to prevent a child going in on their own to retrieve them.
- Remember that floating toys like water wings and air mattresses are no substitute for a life vest, or for adult supervision.
- Keep electrical appliances away from the pool.
- Don’t swim during lightning storms.
- Don’t swim in areas where boats are anchored or active.
- Do not allow wheeled toys by the pool, such as tricycles.
- Keep a phone by the pool.
- Keep the pool area locked when not in use.
- Keep rescue equipment by the pool—shepherd’s hook, safety ring, and rope.
- Learn CPR. Find a course near you.
- Be sure to set pool safety guidelines for sitters.
Will my child be safe if they have taken swimming lessons?
Water introduction and swim classes are fun for your young child and help prepare them to learn to swim. But parents should never be lulled into thinking that their child is safe near the water, even if the child has had swimming or water instruction. Most kids age four or over are ready to start to learn how to swim. Each child will be ready to learn in their own time, depending on their development. Parents may want to think about whether their young child will swallow pool water or be exposed to pool chemicals.
Do I still have to be careful if I have my pool fenced?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that pool fencing alone is not enough to prevent drowning. Don’t let a pool fence give you a false sense of security. It is no substitute for supervision by adults who are trained in CPR, and having a telephone and rescue equipment poolside.
- Make sure your pool is fenced properly. See these Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
- Find out more about the several "layers of protection" to have in place poolside. (Scroll to page two for a nice picture that illustrates all of the ideal “layers of protection” around a pool.)
- Backyard Pool: always supervise children—from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- In Spanish: Piscina Residencial: Vigile siempre a los niños
What about safety in spas, hot tubs and whirlpool tubs?
The safety concerns in spas, hot tubs, and whirlpools include drowning, hair entanglement in the powerful suction, parts of the body getting stuck in the suction drains, and overly hot temperatures. The CPSC has information about the potential hazards of spas, hot tubs and whirlpools and the safety precautions you can take to protect your family.
What are the risks of spinal cord injury while diving?
Each year, about 6,000 young people under the age of 14 are hospitalized because of a diving injury. One in five of those will suffer a severe spinal cord injury.
Prevent diving injuries:
- Always jump in feet first
- Be cautious around water; don't roughhouse
- Be aware of depths and sand bar locations
- Take diving classes to learn how to dive safely
- Never dive in the shallow end of the pool
- Never dive into above-ground pools
- Never dive through water toys like inner tubes
- Don't drink alcohol or use other substances that affect judgement when playing in or around the water
- More safe diving information (this does take the place of diving lessons)—includes a list of dos and don'ts and a diagram of proper diving form
Watch this video that tells the story of a young Michigan man who injured his spine diving into a lake.
Where can I learn about preventing the spread of illness through swimming water?
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses that are spread through contact (swallowing, breathing or just touching) with contaminated water. This can happen in pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans. The most common illness is diarrhea, which can be caused by many different germs that can be spread in swimming water.
The great news is that, in pools, germs causing RWIs are killed by chlorine. However, chlorine doesn’t work right away. It takes time to kill germs and some germs like “Crypto” are resistant to chlorine and can live in pools for days. That is why even the best maintained pools can spread illness. You can help stop germs from getting in the pool in the first place with healthy swimming behaviors. Healthy swimming behaviors are needed to protect you and your kids from RWIs. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you can do to promote healthy swimming:
- Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. This is especially important for kids in diapers. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
- Don’t swallow the pool water. In fact, avoid getting water your mouth.
- Practice good hygiene. Take a shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
- Take your kids on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” may mean that it’s too late.
- Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside. Germs can spread to surfaces and objects in and around the pool and spread illness.
- Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Everyone has invisible amounts of fecal matter on their bottoms that ends up in the pool.
For more information on RWIs:
- The CDC Healthy Swimming page gives information about recreational water illness prevention. Learn how to prevent the spread of disease while swimming.
- Get some more healthy swimming tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
What about boating safety?
Practice and teach your children safe boating practices. Make sure your kids always wear their life jackets while boating. Be aware of the level of skill and judgment needed to safely operate a boat, jet ski, or other watercraft; make sure your child is mature and well-trained before you let them take the controls.
Where can I find more information?
- Clear Danger: A National Study of Childhood Drowning and Related Attitudes and Behaviors from the National Safe Kids Campaign.
- Prevenga Las Muertes De Niños Por Ahogamiento En El Hogar (Prevent Child In-Home Drowning Deaths)
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Swimming Pool Safety
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated May 2010
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