Skip to main content

National Drowning Prevention Symposium - Tuesday, March 15, 2011, Colorado Springs, Colorado

September 17, 2012

Good morning everyone.

Bob, thank you very much for that kind introduction and for your leadership at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. CPSC has long considered NDPA to be one of the premiere water safety organizations in the country.

The gathering of attendees for this symposium affirms the respect that we all have for the NDPA and its mission.

You, the members of the NDPA, are today's leaders in preventing child drownings. You are the innovators and experts in creating effective layers of protection. You are the educators and public health officials who effect changes in pool codes and parental behavior.

It is for these reasons that I am so pleased to be here with you today. I am joined by a number of CPSC staff, including Pool Safely campaign leader Kathleen Reilly and founding board member Marcia Kerr, along with our friends from Widmeyer Communications.

We are all here today for a simple but powerful reason: to save the lives of children across the country. We all know that drowning is a leading - but preventable - cause of death and injury among children younger than five.

One year ago, CPSC first introduced its Pool Safely brand at this symposium in Pittsburgh. Since that time, we have fully developed and launched the Pool Safely campaign, and we are thrilled that the NDPA and its members have embraced it.

We thank you for your collaboration and partnership.

Today, as we near the 2011 swim season, our message remains the same: Simple Steps Save Lives.

Whatever system you use to spread the word, the message is clear: simple steps mean taking action to make a positive change.

This includes a positive change in behavior, knowledge, and equipment - changes that are ultimately intended to make families and neighbors safer around pools and spas.

Pool Safely has enjoyed many successes since it was formally launched just before Memorial Day 2010. Some highlights include:

A successful launch in Fort Lauderdale with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, pool safety advocate Nancy Baker, and Olympians Janet Evans and Jason Lezak.

The debut of the Pool Safely public service announcement on The Today Show.

Pool Safely Day events in 28 locations across the nation, including one in St. Paul, Minnesota with Senator Amy Klobuchar; St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; Katey Taylor, president and co-founder of the Abbey's Hope Charitable Foundation; and Rick Root, president of the World Waterpark Association. Representative Wasserman Schultz and Senator Klobuchar led the way in Congress to secure passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Their commitment to pool safety remains strong today.

The campaign generated more than 400 million impressions through our PSAs, interviews, billboards, Rapid Response program, and informational and educational materials.

The Pool Safely PSAs aired on 645 local television and radio stations nationwide, and appeared in industry trade magazines throughout the United States.

Five metropolitan subway stations - including Washington, D.C.'s Metro system - displayed the campaign's message prominently on 112 billboards and inside 17 malls throughout major urban cities.

The PSA and our eight-part educational video are available on YouTube and the NDPA's website. I encourage all of you to check them out these materials and share them with friends in your community.

I am very pleased to share with you that the Pool Safely campaign so far has earned five major honors. Moreover, we were a finalist for the prestigious PR Week Awards.

The campaign's many successes and the awards we have won would not have been possible without the support of so many of you here in this room.

It is because of the efforts of our partners that families are learning at the grassroots level to Pool Safely.

We developed the national PSA with the American Red Cross and the YMCA; in partnership with the NDPA and Safe Kids USA, we produced the educational video and online activity; we hosted a webinar for first-responders and water safety advocates with the Home Safety Council; and we carried out industry outreach with the APSP.

Our partners have taken the lead in using and disseminating our handouts and ads to their members; and we encourage all of you here to do the same.

These are free materials produced by the government, so they are in the public domain for your use.

Today, we have 13 Campaign Safety Partners; these are Pool Safely's premiere national public safety partners. In addition, we have 37 Campaign Safety Leaders, including state and regional water and public safety organizations.

The Campaign Safety Leaders work to inform parents, caregivers, and pool and spa owners about drowning and drain entrapment prevention and about creating a safer pool and spa environment.

We also have a Campaign Safety Community, which is a limitless group of more than 500 individuals and organizations committed to preventing drownings in their local communities.

Our goal in 2011 is to realize the full potential of our collective efforts and create a positive change nationwide - a change that results in fewer drownings, nonfatal submersions, and entrapments.

No one knows better than you that as the weather gets warmer exposure to danger in the water increases, and the number of incidents involving children rise. Safe Kids USA often calls the summertime, "trauma season" for children.

Let's stop this summer from being another season of trauma in the pool.

Sadly, CPSC data show that there are 385 pool and spa drownings each year involving children younger than five.

Since the beginning of 2011, the Pool Safely Rapid Response team has tracked 64 incidents nationwide, including 25 pool drownings involving children younger than five.

We need to work together now to reverse the trend, prevent the 911 drowning calls, save the lives of children, and make pools a source of fun - not tragedy.

We all know the risks:

inadequate supervision,

improper fencing,

insufficient barriers on all four sides,

broken gates or doors,

ladders left in above ground pools,

poor maintenance of pools or spas,

and noncompliant drain covers and other safety devices.

A lack of water safety skills can be another deficiency. Too many children grow up without learning how to swim. The cycle continues as those children become parents of children who also do not learn how to swim. And we all know that swimming is a vital life skill.

I can still remember as a young girl learning to swim with the help of my mother. She held me up and never let me go until I was able to swim on my own.

My husband also tells the story of not being allowed to graduate from college without demonstrating an ability to swim.

Improving behaviors, upgrading equipment, and learning new skills is not such a big task when it comes to saving our children's lives.

Because the answers are so simple and can have such a big impact, it is imperative that we are relentless in repeatedly sending out our message to every parent and caregiver.

Our research shows that parents believe they are already doing a very good job of supervising their children. They also believe that something as unthinkable as drowning or entrapment could never happen to them.

Yet, all too often families suffer the heartbreak of pool-related incidents and drownings.

Families like the Bakers, Kerrs, Patricks, and Riggsbees.

Drownings happen, drain entrapments happen, and they are devastating; but we also know that they are preventable.

In the Pool Safely campaign's second year, we must work harder to reduce the number of families who are impacted by these senseless and tragic events. The good news is that the Pool Safely campaign and our partners are working to bridge the gap between what the facts are and what people believe.

As we know from data gathered by the CDC and USA Swimming, a fear of the water and a lack of swimming ability make African American and Hispanic children more vulnerable to drowning incidents in pools and open water.

The great Olympian Cullen Jones has done an outstanding job of teaming up with USA Swimming to break down barriers and educate and motivate underserved families to swim.

I would like to recognize some of our other partners and acknowledge the plans they will put into action this spring.

The Home Safety Council has a pool safety training program for pre-schoolers in 4,000 Head Start programs around the country, which calls for parental involvement. Starting early in teaching water safety can be make a big impact as children grow up.

The NDPA has a pilot program for residential backyard safety checks for pool and spa owners. Members of their team have attended trade shows all over the country, reaching tens of thousands of individuals in emergency care, public health, pediatrics, and related fields with water safety messages.

Safe Kids USA is working with coalition members to send out pool inspection and rapid response materials directly into their communities. These materials are designed for low literacy readers and are also available in Spanish.

There are many individuals who are also making a positive difference in their community:

Geoff Dawson, who owns The Pool Safety Resource in Florida, visits child care centers to teach children about water safety and to distribute materials for parents and owners.

The Pool Safety Mom in Arizona shares the Pool Safely PSAs with water safety organizations and distributes materials to lifeguards and parents at community safety events.

Lifesaving Resources in New Hampshire shares Pool Safely digital materials with other water safety organizations and at safety conferences.

And countless organizations and individuals are hosting or linking to information about the Pool Safely campaign on their websites.

I also want to recognize the National Swimming Pool Foundation, the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, and the APSP, which are all conducting training events on how to comply with Section 1404 of the Pool and Spa Safety Act.

These live and online courses and seminars are conducted nationwide to teach state and local officials, pool and spa service professionals, and lifeguards how to keep our pools and spas safe and compliant with the law.

In addition, CPSC has created a training video for state and local inspectors and industry representatives. This free video presents a step-by-step process for inspecting pools and spas and bringing them into compliance.

These educational training programs are intended to help the industry achieve a high rate of compliance with this important child safety law.

All of the organizations that are represented here in Colorado Springs are helping to increase awareness of drowning prevention strategies for their customers, clients, and networks.

As we look ahead, Pool Safely 2011 will take CPSC to new cities to highlight the simple steps that save lives. I will be in San Diego in May, just prior to the Memorial Day weekend, to kick off the campaign.

In late June, we will be in Phoenix for a partnership event, where we will acknowledge the city's leadership role in advancing the cause of drowning prevention.

While there, we will also release our summer snapshot, which will take a mid-year look at the campaign to see how it is going.

We need the help of every one of you. We need to amplify the public safety message through established channels to keep this campaign going for years to come.

Only through a sustained effort, will we truly make a difference. We must reach a new generation of parents, a new generation of grandparents, and continue to focus additional education efforts on underserved communities.

For anyone here today who is not familiar with the Pool Safely campaign, I would encourage you to become familiar with it by visiting the website. It is a great place to start learning about the campaign and its educational tools.

And don't forget to follow us @PoolSafely on Twitter.

We also have some new characters on our Kids' Corner. Splish and Splash are two cute characters whom children will enjoy watching as they learn proper and safe behavior in and around the pool.

We have a new feature on that allows individuals to post information about a pool or spa incident, as well as a message and photo about their incident. The website also encourages individuals to post information on safety in and around the pool or spa.

Just look for the "Share Your Stories" link on the site.

The Pool Safely campaign is designed to raise public awareness about drowning and drain entrapment prevention, to support industry compliance with safety standards, and to improve safety, and save lives.

If there was no Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, there would be no Pool Safely campaign. If there was no funding from Congress to support the law, there would be no energy behind our Pool Safely campaign.

At CPSC, we value the law and the funding to implement it.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, Lighthouse Award Winner Nancy Baker, along with Safe Kids and NDPA, are among the driving forces behind the passage of this important child safety law.

Let there be no doubt, I believe the Pool and Spa Safety Act is helping to make older pools and spas safer and is creating safer designs for newly constructed pools and spas.

I want CPSC, safety advocates, and the industry to succeed in meeting the requirements of the law. Success will lead to lives saved.

As many of you are aware, we are facing an important moment in implementing the Act. My agency is conducting a serious and expansive investigation of the laboratories that test and the manufacturers who make pool and spa drain covers.

Here is why this investigation is so important: in 2009, 2010, and so far in 2011, we are not aware of a single child who has died in a drain entrapment incident. This is exactly what the law intended, and I want a zero fatality rate to be maintained for years to come.

Yes, teaching children never to play near drain covers and instructing the service industry to ensure that drain covers are always installed properly is important in preventing entrapments.

But, what we also need are safe drain covers that are compliant with the law - in terms of their flow capacity and design. And we need safe, compliant drain covers installed in every pool and spa across the country.

Clearly, we have concerns with some of the drain covers made after the law went into effect, and we have concerns with the protocols used by certain labs that tested them.

Just last week, the technical staff at CPSC held a public meeting to hear testimony and ask questions of the laboratories, manufacturers, industry, standards organization, and other important stakeholders.

The staff at CPSC is working night and day on this problem because we want to conclude our investigation before Memorial Day weekend, if not sooner.

I want all of you to know that CPSC has the power to act and correct the safety of products that either violate a standard or pose an unreasonable risk of harm to the public.

All of you need to know, the industry needs to know, and families need to know which covers are safe and which ones need to be fixed. CPSC is working to answer those questions so that everyone feels safe in backyard, wading, kiddy, and community pools.

Even though unblockable drain covers are not the subject of our current investigation, I want to take a minute to restate my position on these types of covers.

I believe the Pool and Spa Safety Act requires a single main drain that is of a blockable size to be covered with a compliant drain cover and have an anti-entrapment back-up system or device in place.

The majority of my fellow Commissioners set a policy that allows a large, unblockable drain cover to be placed over that small, single main drain system without back-up protection.

I have and continue to respectfully disagree with this policy.

As the NDPA membership knows, best practices in drowning prevention call for layers of protection in and around pools and spas. I support layers of protection.

During these past two years as the Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, I have travelled all across the country urging parents to create layers of safety in and around pools - and their homes.

See, water safety is only a part of what CPSC does - as there are thousands of products that my small but vital agency oversees.

This is a huge task, and my agency recently took a huge step forward in giving consumers open access to vital safety information.

On March 11, CPSC launched the new website. This database provides consumers with open access to product safety information that most people have never seen before.

This is why we call the biggest open government initiative we have undertaken at CPSC in many years.

I believe an informed consumer is an empowered consumer, and this new tool provides consumers with open access to incident reports filed by other consumers. Viewing these reports even before CPSC announces a recall could be potentially lifesaving for consumers who use the site.

The site allows consumers, child care providers, health care professionals, government officials, first responders, and others to submit reports of harm or potential reports of harm.

Contrary to comments you may have heard from some industry associations, there are more safeguards in place for manufacturers with our database than with any other government database.

First, CPSC staff will screen every report.

Second, manufacturers will have 10 days to review any report citing their product. The company can tell us if there is materially inaccurate or confidential information in the report, which we will remove if the claim is true.

Companies can also submit a comment, which will be posted alongside the published report.

So to summarize, you can use the website to submit an incident report, search for incident reports involving a product you have purchased or are thinking of purchasing, and search for recall information.

The site is very user friendly, and I hope you will bookmark it and visit it frequently.

We are confident that the database will become a crucial tool in advancing consumer protection in the near future.

Its objective is illustrative of what we seek to do at CPSC - protect families from unreasonable risks from consumer products and encourage industry to build safety into the products they make and sell.

In closing, I would like to express my appreciation to the NDPA and all of you for everything you have done and continue to do to help promote pool and spa safety.

We continue to welcome new partners into the campaign, expanding our legions from coast to coast, everyone working toward a common goal of teaching America to Pool Safely.

Pools and spas are wonderful places for recreation and sport, but they can also be death traps. As a nation, we must do a better job of protecting children and teaching parents about the inherent dangers associated with pools, spas, and all bodies of water.

I encourage each of you to get involved, if you aren't already. Learn more by visiting the Pool Safely campaign table here at the Symposium.

Take an extra water safety step, adopt responsible behaviors around pools and spas, learn new water safety skills, and have the right equipment to avert or manage an emergency.

If we can repeatedly reach the public with these messages, we have a good chance at saving some lives this year.

Thank you once again to Bob, Maureen, and the NDPA team for inviting me to speak today. I hope you enjoy your time at the symposium, and I wish you all the best in your efforts to promote water safety in your community.

Report an unsafe product