As summer approaches, it is a great time to review safety tips that allow children to both enjoy the outdoors and minimize their risk of injury and death.
The leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 is unintentional drowning. It is also the second leading cause of death for children through age 14. Home swimming pools are the most common place for drowning to occur in children younger than five. Children younger than 5 who drown were last seen at their home, had been out of sight for less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or more parents at the time of the accident. Diligent direct supervision when children are around any body of water, including hot tubs and drainage or irrigation ditches is vital.
The most important factor in protecting young children in the water is direct supervision. Have a specific individual assigned and clear communication on any changes in that assignment.
Barriers also help keep children safe whenever they are not supposed to be in the water. Four-sided pool isolation fencing with secure self-latching gates reduces the risk of childhood drowning by 83 percent when compared to three-sided property-line fencing. Anti-entrapment devices placed on pool drains decrease the risk of death and accidents in children.
In addition, participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children 1-4 years of age. You can call your local recreation department to sign your children up for swimming lessons. However, lessons do not replace the need for constant, direct supervision when your child is near or in the water.
Do not allow young children to use air-filled or foam toys, such as "water wings," "noodles," or inner-tubes in place of life jackets. These floatation devices give the child and parent a false sense of security and can actually cause individuals to flip over into the water.
Life jackets are the recommendation, but make certain it is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Remember, it is the law to have all children in life jackets while using any watercraft. It's not enough for children to have them available in the boat. It only takes a few seconds for an accident to occur.
In addition, it is wise to clean up flotation devices and other toys immediately after use when swimming so children are not tempted to re-enter the pool area unsupervised.
The percentage of drowning in natural water (lakes, rivers or oceans) increases with age, with 65 percent occurring in children 15 years and older. Over 90 percent of victims who died drowning during boating related accidents were not wearing a life jacket. And 50 percent of adolescent and adult deaths that occurred in water recreation were associated with alcohol use. Alcohol influences balance, coordination and judgment and its effects are enhanced by sun exposure and heat.
Take the extra time and effort to make sure everyone uses life jackets while enjoying water activities this summer.
Connie Berglund is Family Nurse Practitioner at Grand River Student Health Center.