The Pool Rules


Ah, summer! The days are long and hot, the grass needs mowing, the pool is twinkling . . . but your hammock wins the day and you head off for a nap in the breeze. No! First check where the children are, and if the pool gate is locked. 


On average, about 300 children a year die in pools and hot tubs in the United States, but this number spiked to more than 600 in 2009. Locally, from the beginning of 2007 through 2008, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital cared for 13 children under the age of 18 who were victims of water injuries, none of whom died.


“The majority of submersion injuries nationwide are sustained by children between one and three years of age,” says SBCH injury prevention coordinator Janeanne Morgan. “Toddlers often do something unexpected because their capabilities change daily.” Janeanne added, “And most submersion victims are being supervised by one or both parents in familiar surroundings.”



When asked to comment from her perspective, SBCH Emergency Department clinical manager Denise McDonald introduced the tenets of water safety—drowning is silent and prevention is the cure. “Children drown without a sound,” said Denise. “There is nothing more tragic for an ED staff member than to be involved in the acute resuscitation of a child…every drowning, or water-related injury, is preventable.”




>> True or False?

>> The Numbers

>> Safety Tips



Water safety relies on layers of protection that culminate with supervision. Pool covers, fences, alarms, life guards, life jackets and swimming lessons all play a vital role, but these cannot supplant the unremitting vigilance of a responsible adult.


Gina Randall, clinical manager of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at SBCH, adds that nonfatal submersion injuries spike at SBCH with the onset of warm weather. “Many of these children unfortunately do not fully recover. Nonfatal submersions can cause brain damage which may result in lifelong disabilities. This is tragic for everyone involved.”


Dr. Curtis Pickert is chief of medical services at Cottage Children’s Hospital. For him, the essence is this, “In the last 20 years I have seen a number of drownings. For all of them, I could easily say that one hundred percent of the time, a parent or family member said, ‘I only took my eyes off the child for a minute.’ You cannot take your eyes off a child for a moment!”


Dr. Pickert added that it’s a big mistake to think that pool safety measures are unnecessary for people who don’t have kids. “I’ve seen several drowning cases involving a child wandering into a neighbor’s yard,” he said.


And so, having found out that the kids are about to go for a swim, not only the grass, but also the hammock will have to wait. You’ll be watching the kids, not taking your eyes off of them, even for a moment!





True or False?


Someone can drown while wearing a life jacket.

TRUE  A loose fitting or too-large life jacket will float while a child sinks beneath the water within it.


Eating before swimming is dangerous.

FALSE  It’s a myth that you need to wait an hour after eating before going in the water. But common sense is key. You don’t want to eat a heavy meal and immediately jump in the pool for vigorous exercise.


Competitive swimmers who train a lot can absorb toxic levels of chlorine.

TRUE  Some refuse to train in chlorinated pools.


You should not turn your back on the waves.



Learning to swim is all that is needed for water safety.

FALSE   Water confidence, swimming skills and water intelligence are all required. The latter includes knowledge of currents, depth awareness, the sense not to swim in the dark, not to drink alcohol while boating, not to run on wet surfaces, and vigilance.


UV exposure is heightened due to reflection near water bodies.

TRUE   Regular application of sunscreen is especially important to avoid damage to your skin.



The Numbers


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records:

  • Drowning represents 9% of unintentional injury deaths among children 0–19 years old.
  • The highest rate is among children between one and four years old.
  • Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 14.
  • 19% of drownings occur in public pools with lifeguards on duty.
  • Four children receive emergency treatment for nonfatal submersion injuries, for every one that drowns.
  • A child can drown in just one inch of water.
  • 25% of drowning victims have had swimming lessons.


For a free guide to pool barriers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission go to:



Safety Tips


Our Pediatric nurses would like to point out a few things that you as an adult can do to make your water environment safe for children.

  • Never leave your child alone in or near a pool, even for a moment.
  • Keep your child within your arm’s reach at all times when in or near water of any kind.
  • Remove all toys from the pool so that children are not tempted to reach for them.
  • Use a rigid lockable cover on a hot tub, spa or whirlpool.
  • Throw away or tightly cover buckets, pails or coolers that contain water or chemicals.
  • Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children.
  • Learn CPR and know how to get emergency help if needed.


Read other stories from the Summer 2010 Cottage Magazine here.