Drowning prevention is a national concern
Not On My Watch collected data on drowning deaths and near drownings in pools and spas
By Marcelle Dibrell
Drowning is a national problem and prevention is a topic about which many pool care professionals are deeply passionate.
Since 2015, Service Industry News has featured a column, Not on my Watch, that chronicles the media-reported drownings in the country. It details the deaths and near deaths of people in swimming pools and spas. The column is meant to educate people about the frequency, immediacy and reality of the drowning problem that we have in this country.
After collecting a year’s worth of stories, we present the following information.
Not on my Watch discovered 138 child drowning deaths in pools and spas from May 2020 to May 2021.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 350 children die from drowning in a pool and spa every year.
Therefore, last year Not on my Watch found nearly 39 percent of all U.S. child pool and spa drownings.
In many cases, Not on my Watch found the age, gender, location and circumstances of the drowning death. Therefore, we can report: From 2018 to 2019, Not on my Watch found that 67 percent of the drowning were boys and 48 percent were girls. Those percentages are fairly consistent
Service Industry News’ Not On My Watch column has accumulated 7-years’ data on drowning in pools and spas in the United States. There are few sources that report drownings specific to pools and spas — and Service Industry News offers this data . with CPSC data, which reports that more than twice as many boys drown than girls.
The locations of the drownings were reported. Not on my Watch found that the states with the highest child drowning rates last year included Florida - 35%, Texas - 12%, Arizona - 9%, South Carolina - 7% and California - 5%.
In many cases, the details of the drownings were reported.
In some incidents, children were reported to have drowned in the midst of a large gathering, such as a party, family reunion or other function where many others were present. From the data collected, this was true of 10 percent of all the drown children found. This number is much lower than prior years, which generally found that about 23 percent of children drown during social gatherings. It may reflect social distancing during the Covid pandemic.
Many children were reported to have drowned in a hotel or motel pool, where some parents assume the presence of a lifeguard. From the data collected, this was true of three percent of all of the children found. This number is lower than prior years, and may reflect less traveling due to stay-at-home orders during the Covid pandemic.
In some cases, children are reported to have drowned in a neighbor’s swimming pool or spa. A parent or guardian notices that the child is missing only to find that they have gained unauthorized access to someone else’s pool. From the data collected, this was true of 10 percent of the children who drown last year. This is consistent with data collected from prior years.
This is particularly salient information because many pool owners who do not have children do not believe that they should incorporate common safety measures for their pools, such as fences, covers or alarms. It’s also important because many people who don’t have or use pools don’t teach their children to swim.
It is important to mention that Not on my Watch did not to deliver one crucial bit of information: the number of nonfatal drownings that occur every year. Everyday, America’s swimming pools see close- calls where the child is rescued in time to send them to the hospital in serious, critical or grave condition. In most of these instances, the final outcome is never reported. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission does report the annual number of emergency room visits, they do not report whether the drowning incidents result in brain damage or permanent injury. But Nadina Riggsbee, the president and founder of the National Drowning Foundation, can shed some light on where these unreported children end up.
“Drowning is the number one cause of death and disability. The death is horrendous, but the ones that survive with massive brain damage is worse,” Riggsbee said.
According to Riggsbee, in California alone there are over 700 severely brain damaged children currently living in state hospitals as the result of drowning incidents.
“These kids are living well into adulthood, with medical bills for roundthe- clock nursing of about $500,000 per year per child,” Riggsbee said.
The Not on my Watch column stresses that drowning events are real: tragic, frequently preventable and much more than just statistics.
But there are a lot of take-home messages that statistics can provide. One message is that there must always be a dedicated water watcher when children are around water. Data from the “large gathering” drowning incidences shows that simply having a large number of people present around the pool does not prevent drowning.
Another message is for parents to teach children to swim, and teach them early. Children under four years old have the highest drowning rate.
By some estimates, drownings are eight times as likely to happen to children who don’t know how to swim. Most of the children found in unattended neighbor’s pools were also under the age of four. Teaching children to swim provides them with a layer of protection if they go unsupervised — even if it doesn’t make them drown-proof.
But this also brings up an important point for all pool owners: restrict access to your pools, even if you don’t have children. Install and lock a gate around your pool. Many children are attracted to water. The last thing anyone wants to find when they come home at the end of the day is a drown neighbor’s child in their pool.
Concerned parents can get a complete list of permitted pools in their neighborhood by contacting their local planning department.
Additional layers of protection can also help to protect children against drowning.
Perhaps the biggest take-home message is to be aware of drowning risks. Awareness of a potential hazard could be the best protection we can offer our children.
It is time for drowning prevention to become part of our national conversation. Our special thanks to Jason Lehman who helped inspire our part in that endeavor.