Friday, December 27, 2013

Teaching Children Water Safety Barriers

After trying on her new swim suit a couple of days ago, my recently-turned two-year-old told me she was going to go swimming at her grandparents’ house. Her grandparents have a backyard pool, and my daughter said she wanted to go swimming now, even though it was 40 degrees outside. The conversation with my daughter got me thinking about how much she enjoys the water, how comfortable she feels in the water, and the fact that she has her own plans to be in the water. Before this conversation with my daughter, I didn’t realize she acknowledged the pool or had any personal initiative about swimming. I was struck with the need to reinforce to my daughter that she not make any plans on her own to go swimming. It became clear to me that I need to instill some clear guidelines for water safety, even when we are not near the water.

Water safety is something that should be discussed not only around water or during the summer months; it should be discussed year round. We don’t wait until a child is around fire to teach fire safety. In the same way, we should not wait until a child is around water to teach proper water safety. The best method for teaching young children memorable and doable water safety rules, is to keep the rules simple and consistent.
Three simple water safety rules to discuss with your child when near and away from the water are:

1. You don’t swim in anything other than a swim suit
Children are drawn to water, especially if they feel familiar or overly confident with it. Frequently drowning occurs when a child ventures into water alone, especially if there are toys or intriguing objects in the water. In the same way we teach children to wash their hands before eating to avoid getting sick, we can teach children the process of preparing to get into the water. Make putting on swim suits a fun activity to get prepared for the water. Try to make the process you have for getting dressed for the pool as consistent as possible. If you get changed at the pool, have a favorite location in the locker room. If you get dressed at home, have a ritual of you and your child putting swim suits on. The more a child recognizes that a swim suit is key to being in the water, the greater the barrier to that child venturing in the water unprepared. 

2. You can’t swim unless an adult is specifically watching you
This rule is beneficial for children and adults as well. If there are a lot of people at the pool or beach, or there is a lifeguard on duty, it can be tempting for a child to feel confident about going into the water. Children don’t drown only when they are swimming alone. Children drown while swimming in crowded pools or while dozens of adults are sitting around the pool. Children need individual attention while swimming, and they need to know that they need that attention. Lifeguards should be an extra set of eyes on your child, not the only pair of eyes.

3. You must ask permission before entering the water 
Make your child aware that it is his or her responsibility to check to see if everyone is ready for swimming. Whether you are getting in the water with your child, or whether you are sitting on the pool deck, make it part of the ritual that your child ask permission before getting into the water. Children are accustomed to asking permission before using something or doing something. It will not be hard for your child to learn that getting into water is something that has to be approved before doing. This rule sets up another barrier for children from going into the water without any supervision, and it gives adults a reminder prompt to be vigilant while a child is in the water. 

Whether it is the heat of the summer and water is a daily encounter, or whether it is the middle of winter and you are daydreaming with your child about the days of swimming in the warm sun, always remind your child of the three pool rules. Every season is the right season for teaching your kids about water safety. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Look for Life, Avoid Burn Out

Lifeguarding is often portrayed as a glamorous job. Almost always, lifeguards work in fun locations. The work atmosphere tends to be more enjoyable than most. The solitary duties of a lifeguard can become tedious, though. Scanning the water to ensure that everyone is okay, maintaining focus, and avoiding conversation while on duty can wear down a lifeguard. Equally tiring is the job of looking for what is going wrong. It's possible for lifeguarding to be compared to a long, arduous game of comparing photos to find the subtle differences. When lifeguarding becomes a task of finding what is wrong with the picture, it sets the lifeguard up for burnout.

Recently SAI StarGuard Director, Lake White, spoke on the importance of having the right outlook while lifeguarding. Meaning, look for what is going right, instead of what is going wrong. When a lifeguard is focused on finding the error in the scenario - an unresponsive person in the water - the mentality can become similar to someone who is looking for a needle in a haystack. It can become tedious for a lifeguard to look for something day-after-day that does not happen. Some lifeguards may go the entire season without having to perform a rescue. In his recent lecture, Lake White pointed out that burnout in lifeguards often occurs because they are in a sense "just waiting" for something to happen. If lifeguards are actively looking for life, then lifeguards will be able to find what they are looking for while on duty. If a lifeguard is focused on looking for life - movement in the water - it will be apparent when there is a lack of movement in the water. The method of looking for life does not require scouring for the possible error, but instead it helps lifeguards evaluate whether the situation in the water is as it should be or not.

Lifeguards should be proud of keeping people safe. If lifeguards are focused on looking for what is going right in the water, then each shift that does not require a rescue will mean a shift where the lifeguards where engaged with what was going right, and actively guarding those in the water.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Do You Know the Definition of Drowning?

There's a problem with the definition of drowning. The problem is that most people aren't using the correct definition.

This past August, when Usher's son was rescued from being entrapped in a pool drain, the incident was reported by the media as a near-drowning. This sort of media lingo occurs almost every time a nonfatal drowning occurs. The misuse drowning terminology in the news is not so much the fault of the media outlets as it is those who are reporting these incidents - health and water safety professionals.  

So what's the big deal with using phrases like near drowning? It's not so much about word preferences as as it's about data collection. We know that drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children, and that drowning is a public health problem worldwide, but we don't actually know how much of a problem it is. The reason we don't know the actual prevalence of this issue is because not every drowning is reported, because not every incident is considered a drowning. In order to have a better understanding of the prevalence of drowning, it's helpful to include all relevant, whether fatal or not. Nonfatal drownings are often underreported or not reported all.  A comprehensive definition of drowning means eliminating the notion that drownings can nearly happen. 

In 2005 the World Health Organization used the consensus of health professionals to provide a clear definition of drowning. As a result, drowning is defined as
"the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid."
With this definition it is impossible to nearly drown. To account differences in incidents, the WHO has designated drowning outcome classifications as: death, morbidity, no morbidity. 

This uniform definition of drowning will help give us a better understanding of the worldwide prevalence of drowning, whether fatal or nonfatal. This definition is only useful when it's applied, though. As professionals, we can lead the way to better  drowning surveillance by incorporating the WHO's definition of drowning and educating others to do so as well. 

For the full paper on the process of defining drowning, review this Policy and Practice paper by the WHO. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

National Preparedness Month Can be for Everyone

We are a little over half way through the 10th annual National Preparedness Month. This September promotion was instituted by FEMA as a result of 9/11 and addresses circumstances not necessarily related to water safety. The concept of being prepared is powerful, though, and can easily be applied to water safety.

How prepared are home swimming pools for guests to be safe?

How prepared are parents to have their children near or in the water?

How prepared are lifeguards to rescue someone?

How prepared are swimming facilities for large groups of children to be in the pool?

Preparation is never to be underestimated or overlooked. Take time to prepare.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Recent Drowning Statistics, Apparent Drop

The Centers for Disease Control recently released drowning statistics for 1999-2010 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The current data follows the same trend historically seen: the most vulnerable population for drowning are children under 4 years of age, the drowning rate for males is higher than females, and drowning continues to remain one of the leading causes of death in children. The statistics of drowning are always heavy and sobering. There is a positive angle to these statistics, however. The CDC reported from 1989-1998 there were an average of 4,811 victims of fatal drownings per year. The average number of drowning deaths per year from 1999-2000 was 4,147.

The drop in number of fatal drownings appears significant. These statistics provide optimism that efforts to bring awareness and training in aquatics safety are valuable and effective. There is still work to be done, because any fatal drowning is one too many, but progress is being made.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

She did it!

This past weekend was incredibly exciting for the world of swimming. At 64 years old, and after multiple attempts, Diana Nyad has successfully swam from Havana to Key West without a shark cage or swim fins. Diana is very much an inspiration and a great example of perseverance. Hopefully her journey will continue to influence swimmers for decades to come.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Taking the Plunge, Swimming Documentary

Looking forward to seeing this documentary, Taking the Plunge. This film appears to be a well-researched and positive approach to exploring the need for everyone to know how to swim. Hopefully this film will be a good reminder to all that you're never too old to learn to swim.

Monday, August 26, 2013

PADI Swim School in the Maldives

SAI founder, Jill White, and CEO, Leslie Donovan, recently traveled to Male, Maldives to train the staff of the Sun Diving School. Most of the instruction was done in the beautiful ocean water that makes the Maldives such a tourist destination. The newest instructors to rise from the PADI Swim School Instructor Training were professional and fun to work with. Overall, the course was great and we are excited to have new PADI Swim School Instructors representing SAI from Male!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Threatening aquatics situations occur, but drownings can be prevented. The SAI trained and certified lifeguards at the Centennial Park Aquatic Center in the Village of Orland Park, IL. did an exemplary job with a drowning rescue earlier this month. Thank you to excellent staff in Orland Park and to the Chicago Tribune for recognizing the guards in this article. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pool & Spa Safety, Needed Enforcement

In response to the deaths and injuries caused by entrapment, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act was enacted in 2007. Unfortunately, this law has not enforced the installation of anti-entrapment covers in private homes. Recently the report that the son of R&B singer, Usher, was entrapped in a home swimming pool has brought more media attention to the issues of drain entrapment and the risk of drowning. It should not take incidents of high profile celebrities to bring attention to this issue. Hopefully this law can be expanded and promoted to protect those in private pools. 

Recently Alan Korn, the executive director of Abbey's Hope, spoke with Robin Young on WBUR's Here and Now about entrapment and pool safety. Listen to the interview here