Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Public Service Announcement - Safe Kids Week

(I wrote this last week and then forgot to post it. While it's no longer Safe Kids Week, I still think this is important information. Since I wrote it, another three year old child in the city has died by drowning in the family's above-ground backyard pool.)


It's not often I get a press release that's worth just pasting verbatim into a post, but I thought this information from Safe Kids Canada was so timely and relevant that I would do just that. I read on the weekend a frightening story about a 22 month old child who is recovering in hospital from a near-drowning at his daycare outside of Ottawa.

Even we had a bit of a close call last week at a friend's inground pool. Tristan was an arm's length away from me as I held Simon in my arms with my back to Tristan. He misjudged the slope from the shallow end to the deep end and I turned around to see him flailing and struggling to get his footing back under him and managed to pull him back into the shallow end, sputtering and frightened but safe. Awful things can happen in a heartbeat; please read this and be safe this summer. (It's long, so I've tucked it below the fold. Click on the "more please" button to see the rest of this post.)

Safe Kids Canada – Backgrounder on Drowning

Many serious injuries and deaths among Canadian children are linked to summer activities, especially swimming. In fact, the majority (60 per cent) of drowning incidents occur in the summer.[i]

The Facts:

· According to Safe Kids Canada, drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death for Canadian children. An estimated 58 children under the age of 14 will drown every year. This is equal to two elementary school classrooms of children.

· Another 140 children will be hospitalized each year as a result of a near-drowning incidents.[ii] Near-drowning can cause brain damage and change a child’s life forever. Children who have nearly drowned can have difficulty learning, remembering, planning and paying attention.

· According to a new poll, 34 per cent of Canadian parents believe that if a child were drowning they would hear splashing, crying and screaming. This is simply not true. Drowning happens quickly and silently – often the child just slips under the water. Their lungs fill with water making it impossible to make any sound.

· During the 10-year period from 1994 to 2003 nearly half of all child drownings and near-drownings in Canada occurred in swimming pools (49 per cent); the remainder were in open bodies of water (37 per cent) such as streams, lakes and ponds; and bathtubs (14 per cent).[iii] Young children can drown in as little as 5 cm (2 inches) of water.

· Quebec and Ontario are the most popular provinces for backyard pools. They lead the country with backyard pool drownings with 47 per cent in Quebec and 37 per cent in Ontario.[iv]

· Children under age five are twice as likely to drown as older children. They are attracted to water but do not know its dangers. Their physical characteristics also put them at risk: a combination of poor balance and top-heavy bodies make them vulnerable to falling in the water.

· 38 per cent of drownings of children under the age of five occur in home pools.[v] Often these drownings occur when an adult is not present, while the child is walking or playing near the water and falls in.

The bottom line - these drowning deaths and injuries are predictable and preventable. Parents and caregivers should use ‘layers of protection’ to keep kids safe when in, on or around water.

Safe Kids Canada: Splash into Safety in 2007

It’s simply not enough to teach your child to swim. Safe Kids Canada strongly recommends using ‘layers of protection’ to keep your child safe when in, on or around water.

Advice for Parents about “Layers of Protection”: Follow these 5 Steps to Water Safety

Step 1: Actively Supervise

42 per cent of all children who drowned in the past 10 years did not have an adult watching them.

When in, on or around water make sure you stay within sight and reach of your child at all times – whether it’s a bathtub, a home pool, a lake, a river, a stream or a pond. This means you have no distractions and you are ready to react - no reading or talking on the phone. Wherever water is present, adults need to be vigilant at all times, not only when children are swimming.

Create a safe water environment inside your home and drain the tub after bathing and avoid using bath seats. Babies can drown when bath seats tip over, or when they slip through the leg openings of the bath seat.

Step 2: Get Trained

Know how to react in an emergency situation. Learn to swim or have an experienced adult swimmer supervise children in, on or around water. Weak swimmers should take swimming lessons, and caregivers should learn First Aid and CPR before assuming the role of supervisor.

Step 3: Create Barriers

Children should not be able to access the water directly from the house or cottage. If there are natural water hazards on your property, fence off an outdoor play space for children to keep them safely away from the water.

Many Canadian municipalities require pools to have three-sided perimeter fencing. Since three-sided fencing uses the house as the fourth side to enclose a pool, it enables children living in the home to easily access the pool from the house. A four-foot high (1.2 m), four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate provides a proven layer of protection. Research has shown that a four-foot high (1.2 m), four-sided pool fencing is twice as effective in preventing home swimming pool drownings compared to three-sided pool fencing.[vi]

Isolation or four-sided fencing is the only passive prevention strategy that has been shown to significantly reduce drowning in backyard pools.[vii] Research shows a fence that goes around all four sides of the pool could prevent 7 out of 10 drownings in children under five years of age by preventing unsupervised access to the pool.[viii]

Whether you have children or not, if you have an in-ground or above-ground pool you should install a four-foot high (1.2 m), four-sided fence with a self closing, self-latching gate. Pool fences and gates should be designed to resist climbing and the gate latch should be installed out of young children’s reach. All these precautions will prevent children from reaching the pool unsupervised.

Even inflatable pools should be fenced off to prevent young children from gaining access directly from the house.[ix]

Other tips: Remember to remove the ladder when you have finished swimming in an above-ground pool. If you are using a wading pool, make sure to empty it when you are done.

Changing four-sided fencing by-laws; what can you do?

Safe Kids Canada is urging Canadians to help enact a municipal by-law requiring a four-foot high (1.2 m), four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all home swimming pools. Not only should in-ground and above-ground pools be fenced, even inflatable pools need four-sided fencing. Pool fences and gates should be designed to stop kids from climbing and the latch should be installed out of a young child’s reach.

Parents who want to find out about their local by-law and advocate for change to the laws in their area, can start by contacting their local councillor. Advice on how to change by-laws is available on the Safe Kids Canada Web site: http://www.safekidscanada.ca/, click on public policy and advocacy, or by calling 1-888-SAFE-TIPS (723-3847).

Step 4: Use Lifejackets

Lifejackets are designed to keep you afloat in water, but they only work if you wear them. Nearly one-tenth of parents believe that children can be left alone while swimming if they are wearing a floatation device such as a lifejacket, arm floats or an inner tube. Arm floats, inner tubes and other inflatable toys should never be used to prevent your child from drowning. Only lifejackets and Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) are designed for safety. Stay within sight and reach of your child and put young children and weak swimmers in lifejackets when in, on or around water.

Other Tips: Lifejackets and PFDs should be snug; if there is more than three inches (6 cm) between a child’s shoulders and the lifejacket or PFD, it’s too big. Look for the Canadian Coast Guard or Transport Canada approved label on your lifejacket or PFD.

Step 5: Teach Kids To Swim

Evidence shows that swimming ability alone cannot prevent drowning. While parent and tot swimming classes are designed to educate adults in water safety, toddlers are still too young to grasp these concepts. Safe Kids Canada recommends that by age five children are ready to be enrolled in swimming lessons. This is a developmental milestone for children. At this age children have the mental capacity to understand the concepts taught in swimming lessons, as well as increased muscle development and coordination.

Other tips: Teach kids water safety rules. For example, when at the beach or lake only let them swim where you know it is safe.

[i] Safe Kids Canada. Child & Youth Unintentional Injury: 1994 – 2003 10 Years in Review. 2006.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Canadian Red Cross. Drownings and other water-related injuries in Canada. 10 Years of Research. 1991 – 2000.
[v] http://www.redcross.ca/article.asp?id=001037&tid=024 accessed March 19, 2007.
[vi] Stevenson M. Rimajova M, Edgecombe D and Vickery K. Childhood drowning: barriers surrounding private swimming pools. Pediatrics 2003; 111(2):e115-e119.
[vii] Bierens JJLM. Handbook on Drowning. Springer: Germany, 2006. p. 97.
[viii] Safe Kids Canada. Child & Youth Unintentional Injury: 1994 – 2003 10 Years in Review. 2006.
[ix] Sécretariat au loisir et au sport, the Canadian Red Cross (Québec Divison), and the LifeSaving Society. Pertinent Facts about Drownings and Other Water-Related Deaths in Quebec. Undated (1991 – 1991 data).