Important Water Safety Tips
Family Safety Advocate, Jacquie Palisi shares simple precautions you can take to keep kids safe in and around water. Download our Parent's Guide to Water Safety below to help prevent water-related injuries and possibly even save a life.
- In 2004, there were 3,308 unintentional fatal drownings in the United States, averaging nine people per day. This figure does not include the 676 fatalities, from drowning and other causes, due to boating-related incidents.
- For every child 14 years and younger who dies from drowning in 2004, five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. More than half of these children were hospitalized or transferred to another facility for treatment.
- Nonfatal drownings can cause brain damage that result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to the permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e., permanent vegetative state).
Groups at Risk
- Males: In 2004, males accounted for 78% of fatal unintentional drownings in the United States.
- Children: In 2004, of all children 1-4 years old who died, 26% died from drowning. Although drowning rates have slowly declined, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years.
- Lack of supervision and barriers (such as pool fencing). Children under age one most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets. Among children ages 1 to 4 years, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools. Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.
- Recreation in natural water settings (such as lakes, rivers, or the ocean). The percent of drownings in natural water settings increases with age. These locations represent the majority of drownings in those over 15 years of age.
- Recreational boating. Boating carries risks for injury. In 2005, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,969 boating incidents; 3,451 participants were reported injured, and 697 died in boating incidents. Among those who drowned, 87% were not wearing life jackets. Most boating fatalities from 2005 (70%) were caused by drowning; the remainder were due to trauma, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, or other causes. Open motor boats were involved in 45% of all reported incidents, and personal watercraft were involved in another 26%.
- Alcohol use. Alcohol use is involved in about 25% to 50% of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation. Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat. Alcohol was involved in about one-third of all reported boating fatalities.
- Seizure disorders. For persons with seizure disorders, drowning is the most common cause of unintentional injury death, with the bathtub as the site of highest drowning risk.
About one-third as many children (an average of about 115 annually) drown from other hazards around the home as do in pools. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received reports of 459 young children who drowned in bathtubs, buckets, toilets, spas, hot tubs and other containers of water in a 4-year period between 1996 and 1999.
"While many of us are aware of the dangers a backyard pool poses to young children, not everyone knows about other drowning hazards around the home," said CPSC Acting Chairman Thomas Moore. "CPSC is alerting parents and caregivers to drowning hazards that might not be so obvious, to help prevent these devastating losses."
Children drowning in bathtubs account for about two-thirds of the 459 reported drowning deaths in the home. The majority of these bathtub deaths occur when the caregiver is not present. In the time it takes to step out of the room to get a towel or answer the phone, a young child can drown. In at least 29 of the 292 bathtub drowning deaths reported to CPSC between 1996 and 1999, the victims were using bath seats.
Many parents and caregivers may not realize the danger buckets pose. From 1996 through 1999, CPSC received reports of 58 children under age 5 who drowned in 5-gallon buckets. Even a small amount of liquid can be deadly. Of all buckets, the 5-gallon size presents the greatest hazard to young children because of its tall, straight sides. That, combined with the stability of these buckets, makes it nearly impossible for top-heavy infants and toddlers to free themselves when they fall into the bucket headfirst.
Toilets can be overlooked as a drowning hazard in the home. The typical scenario involves a child under 3-years-old falling headfirst into the toilet. CPSC has received reports of 16 children under age 5 who drowned in toilets between 1996 and 1999.
Spas and Hot Tubs
Spas and hot tubs, typically located near or sometimes inside the home, pose another hazard to young children. CPSC is aware of 55 children under age 5 who drowned in spas and hot tubs between 1996 and 1999.
Though not as frequently involved in deaths, other products around the home containing water can be drowning hazards. The most common of these are buckets with a capacity different than the 5-gallon size. Additional drowning deaths have also involved landscape ponds, sinks, and fish tanks, among other products.
Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in residential swimming pools. Most children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time.
Consumers with residential pools need to be aware of all the safety tips regarding in-home hazards, and also be aware of how to protect young children from the dangers a pool poses.
The key to preventing a swimming pool tragedy is to have layers of protection. This includes placing barriers around your pool to prevent access, using door and pool alarms, closely supervising your child and being prepared in case of an emergency. CPSC offers these tips to prevent pool drowning:
- Fences and walls should be at least 4 feet high and installed completely around the pool. Fence gates should open outward from the pool and should be self-closing and self- latching. The latch should be out of a small child's reach.
- If your house forms one side of the barrier to the pool, then doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with alarms that produce a sound when a door is unexpectedly opened.
- A power safety cover -- a motor-powered barrier that can be placed over the water area -- can be used when the pool is not in use.
- Keep rescue equipment by the pool and be sure a phone is poolside with emergency numbers posted.
- For aboveground pools, steps and ladders to the pool should be secured and locked, or removed when the pool is not in use.
- If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
- Pool alarms can be used as an added precaution.
Tap Water Scalds
Each year, approximately 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in the home due to scalding from excessively hot tap water. The majority of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges all users to lower their water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to preventing accidents, this decrease in temperature will conserve energy and save money.
Most adults will suffer third-degree burns if exposed to 150 degree water for two seconds. Burns will also occur with a six-second exposure to 140 degree water or with a thirty second exposure to 130 degree water. Even if the temperature is 120 degrees, a five minute exposure could result in third-degree burns.
The CPSC notes that a thermostat setting of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) may be necessary for residential water heaters to reduce or eliminate the risk of most tap water scald injuries. Consumers should consider lowering the thermostat to the lowest settings that will satisfy hot water needs for all clothing and dish washing machines.
Never take hot water temperature for granted. Always hand-test before using, especially when bathing children and infants. Leaving a child unsupervised in the bathroom, even if only for a second, could cause serious injuries. Your presence at all times is the best defense against accidents and scaldings to infants and young children.
CPSC offers these tips to help prevent young children from drowning:
- Never leave a baby alone in a bathtub for even a second. Always keep the baby in arm's reach. Don't leave a baby in the care of another young child. Never leave to answer the phone, answer the door, to get a towel or for any other reason. If you must leave, take the baby with you.
- A baby bath seat is not a substitute for supervision. A bath seat is a bathing aid, not a safety device. Babies have slipped or climbed out of bath seats and drowned.
- Never use a baby bath seat in a non-skid, slip-resistant bathtub because the suction cups will not adhere to the bathtub surface or can detach unexpectedly.
- Never leave a bucket containing even a small amount of liquid unattended. When finished using a bucket, always empty it immediately.
- Store buckets where young children cannot reach them. Buckets, accessible to children, that are left outside to collect rainwater are a hazard.
- Always secure safety covers and barriers to prevent children from gaining access to spas or hot tubs when not in use. Some non-rigid covers, such as solar covers, can allow a small child to slip in the water and the cover would appear to still be in place.
- Keep the toilet lid down to prevent access to the water and consider using a toilet clip to stop young children from opening the lids. Consider placing a latch on the bathroom door out of reach of young children.
- Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) -- it can be a lifesaver when seconds count.
Safety Links On This Topic
Sources: The safety tips in this section were compiled from the following great internet resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/), U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov)