The recommendations for drowning prevention and intervention suggested by the Haddon Matrix countermeasures are remarkably similar to those issued by the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the American Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of their cumulative suggestions are listed below. The chances of you or your children becoming drowning or near-drowning victim are decreased significantly by following a few simple safety tips:
- Whenever young children are swimming, playing, or bathing in water, make sure an adult is constantly watching them. This means that the supervising adult should not read, play cards, talk on the phone, do yard work, or do any other distracting activity while watching the children.
- Never swim alone or in unsupervised places. Teach children to swim with a buddy.
- Keep small children away from buckets containing liquid, especially children less than two years old. Five-gallon industrial containers are a particular hazard. Be sure to empty buckets when finished with their use.
- Never drink alcohol while swimming, boating, or water skiing. Never drink alcohol while supervising children. Teach teenagers about the danger of drinking alcohol around water.
- The role of swim lessons for young children is unresolved. Data are not available to determine whether early-age aquatics programs change the risk of drowning. The decision to offer lessons must be individualized, and take into account the child’s developmental stage and the quality of the instruction. Research on this topic is needed.
- Learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This is particularly important for pool owners and individuals who are frequently around water.
- Do not use air-filled swimming toys or aids in place of life jackets or life preservers with children. Such items are not recognized as personal floatation devices (PDF’s), can give both children and parents a false sense of security, and possibly increase the risk of drowning.
- Check the water depth before entering. The American Red Cross recommends a minimum depth of 9 feet for diving or jumping.
If you have a swimming pool at your home:
- Install a four -sided isolation fence around the pool and swimming area. The fence should be at least 4 feet tall and should completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard. The gate should be self-closing, not readily propped open, and should be self-latching upon closure. Do not place climbable objects next to the fence that may allow a child to climb over the fence. This includes patio chairs, patio tables, large toys, pool pumps, and other large objects.
- Prevent children from having direct access to a swimming pool. Backyard doors, patio doors, doggie doors, and windows that open into a pool or spa area should be locked and should not be easily opened by young children; unless a separate inner fence separates the water source from the house.
- Install adequate underwater lighting in your pool to allow for rapid identification of a struggling or submerged swimmer.
- Install a telephone near the pool. Know how to contact local emergency medical services. Post the emergency number, 9-1-1, in an easy-to-see place.
- Learn CPR.
- While there are many individual recommendations listed here, they can predominantly be grouped into four prevention points: dedicated supervision, secure environment, rapid medical response, and personal responsibility with alcohol.
Other Prevention Measures
Proper supervision, adequate barriers, and education are excellent individual measures that can be taken to prevent drowning. However, there are also community wide prevention efforts that should be considered. One such effort is relevant legislation and subsequent enforcement. Many cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area enacted barrier code legislation in the early 1990’s (Flood, 1991). However, the City of Gilbert failed to pass their barrier code laws in the fall of 2001, and to date does not have any fencing laws. In many cities, the barrier codes only apply to pools installed after the legislation was passed. Another effort would be to enact legislation that requires isolation fencing on all pools, regardless of their installation date. Additionally, some city codes merely require a four-sided fence around the pool; it does not have to be an isolated fence. For these cases, the block or wood fence around the entire yard is adequate, with no inner fence being required. This too could be addressed by new legislation in an effort to diminish the hazards of backyard swimming pools.
The follow up on creating legislation is enforcing the codes. Currently the State of Arizona monitors public and semi-public pools for barrier maintenance and conformity. This includes park pools, community pools, hotel/motel pools, and apartment pools. Fire departments can also inspect public and semi-public pools, and have the right to evacuate and close any pool not in conformance. However, these public and semi-public pools may only be inspected once or twice a year. No inspection is made on private pools, other than immediately after the pool is built. Inadequate manpower and money do not make it reasonable to check all the pools in the Valley on a routine basis, but perhaps this issue should be given more emphasis as a preventative measure.