WASHINGTON, D.C. - Around much of the nation, Memorial Day weekend signals the time to open the family pool for the summer. Pool owners, especially those with young children and grandchildren, should always keep in mind the deadly hazards a pool can pose. A young child can drown quickly and silently, often without any splashing or screaming. It can happen in just the few minutes it takes to answer the telephone.
More than 375 children under 5 years old drown in pools each year nationwide -- most in residential pools. Drowning ranks as the leading cause of death to young children in several sunbelt states. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reminds pool owners there are steps they can take to avoid these drownings.
"There is nothing worse than the death of a child. CPSC is urging pool owners to take the necessary precautions to prevent more of these drownings," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "The keys to preventing these tragedies are placing barriers around your pool, closely supervising your child and being prepared in case of an emergency."
Physical barriers designed to limit access to pools provide an important layer of security. Effective barriers include fences or walls, and power safety covers over pools.
Fences and walls should be at least 4 feet high and installed completely around the pool. Fence gates 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 for the pool, then doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with alarms that produce an audible 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 as an alternative to door alarms.
For above-ground pools, steps and ladders to the pool should be secured and locked, or removed when the pool is not in use.
"Barriers are not foolproof protection from drowning," Brown said. "Supervision also is key to prevention, especially with toddlers. Because their capabilities change everyday, toddlers often do the unexpected, like opening closed pool gates they previously could not open."
Flotation devices are never to be used as a substitute for supervision, and knowing how to swim doesn't make a child drownproof. Watch children closely while they are in the pool.
If a child is missing, always look in the pool first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability. Keep rescue equipment by the pool, and be sure a phone is poolside with emergency numbers posted.
Parents and other caregivers, such as grandparents, babysitters and older siblings, who know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can greatly improve a drowning victim's chances for survival.
CPSC offers three free publications consumers can use to help prevent child drowning: "Safety Barrier Guidelines for Pools," "How to Plan for the Unexpected" and "Guidelines for Entrapment Hazards: Making Pools and Spas Safer." Some localities have incorporated the CPSC guidelines into their building codes and regulations.
Copies of these publications can be obtained here on CPSC's website, or by writing to "Pool Safety", CPSC, Washington, D.C., 20207. Information on ordering these publications is also available by calling the CPSC Hotline, (800) 638-2772.
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