Just ahead of the summer months and the swimming season, May has been named National Drowning Prevention Month in an effort to decrease the tragic numbers. It’s a time to pause and reflect on the realities of drowning and what we, as pool and spa industry members, can do.
As an industry publication, Service Industry News is committed to getting the word out. Recently,
Service Industry News partnered with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, and we are now featuring a monthly column, “Integrating Water Safety in Your Service Business,” that seeks to help pool service professionals who are interested in learning how to have safety conversations with their clientele.
That’s because drowning is a national problem, and prevention is a topic about which many pool-care professionals are deeply concerned.
Since 2015, Service Industry News has featured a column, Not on my Watch, which chronicles the media-reported drownings in the country. It details the deaths and near deaths of people in swimming pools and spas. The point of the column is to get our readers to realize the frequency, immediacy, and reality of the drowning problem that we have in this country.
After collecting a year’s worth of stories from media outlets and government agencies, we can present the following information: Not on my Watch discovered 172 child drowning deaths in pools and spas from April 2022 to March 2023.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 389 children die of drowning in a pool and spa every year.
Last year, Not on my Watch found roughly 44 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 2022 to 2023, Not on my Watch found that 74 percent of the drowning victims were boys and 34 percent were girls. Those percentages are fairly consistent with CPSC data, which reports that more than twice as many boys drown compared to 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*, 31%; Texas, 8%; Arizona, 8%; California, 5%; New Jersey, 5%; and Kentucky, 5%.
*Note — the state of Florida keeps excellent records on child drowning incidents. While it is true that Florida does have a high number of child drownings, Florida’s exceptionally high percentage reflects better reporting.
In many cases, the details of the drownings were reported. This is especially pertinent information.
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 8 percent of all the drowned children found.
This number is much lower than prior years of Not on My Watch data collection, 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 6 percent of all of the children found. This number is also lower than prior years and may reflect less travelling 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 9 percent of the children who drowned 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 failed to deliver one crucial bit of information: the number of non-fatal drownings that occur every year. Every day, 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.
However, the Centers for Disease Control can shed some light on this question For every child under age 18 who dies from drowning, another 7 receive emergency care for nonfatal drowning.
Nearly 40% of drownings treated in emergency departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with 10% for all unintentional injuries).
Drowning injuries can cause brain damage and other serious outcomes, including long-term disability.
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 incidents show 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 4 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 neighbors’ pools were also under the age of 4. 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 drowned 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.