When we hear about water safety, we tend to think it is a seasonal issue pertaining to children and swimming pools. Water safety goes way beyond the pool. It includes lakes, canals, ponds, and any other natural occurring body of water, plus areas in and around the house such as the bathtub, toilet and buckets. Anyone at any age can fall victim to a water tragedy.
The Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona notes that teens and adults are just as susceptible to water-related incidents. Many factors contribute to drowning among this population:
- Teens and adults have a tendency to overestimate their swimming abilities.
- Water conditions are underestimated (temperature, depth, unseen objects).
- Alcohol, drugs or medication are sometimes found to be a contributing factor.
- Life jackets are not being used.
But the most common element in adult water-related incidents is swimming alone.
You are never old enough to swim by yourself. Kids are taught that they must have a supervisor and to “swim with a buddy” as they get older. The same is true for grown-ups. We have rules too.
- Never swim alone and never swim impaired.
- Always tell someone that you are going into the pool or hot tub.
- Do not take any medications — either prescription or over-the-counter medicines — that could make you feel drowsy before entering any body of water. If you’re not sure, check with your doctor.
- Never mix alcohol water-related activity. The water temperatures in hot tubs can speed up the effects of alcohol.
Don’t wing it when it comes to water safety. There is a misconception that water wings will prevent a child from drowning. The truth is, they offer a false sense of security.
“Anything that you blow up is probably a toy,” says Lori Schmidt, public information officer for Scottsdale Fire and president of Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. “They have a statement printed on the packaging that they are not a personal floatation device. Water wings are not a substitute for a life vest and supervision.”
The DPCA has partnered with the Ryan Thomas Foundation and other state and local entities to establish life jacket loaner stations at several lakes and rivers. The stations are located near the dock and will allow boaters to use a life vest from the loaner station and return it at the end of the day.
Life vests can be purchased online and in many retail outlets for as little as $15. Some neighborhood fire departments distribute them for free.
“A life vest is a low investment in comparison to the safety of your child,” says Schmidt.
Maintaining pool equipment
If you notice that any of the main drain and/or suction grates are missing loose and or damaged in any way, call a pool professional for guidance immediately.
It is critical to ensure that all pools and spas have drain covers that are compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act to avoid entrapment hazards, which occur when powerful suction from the water circulation system in a pool or spa causes someone to become trapped underwater. The law is named after Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old girl who died from drowning due to a suction entrapment from a faulty drain cover.
Old, unsafe drain covers are flat and create a strong circulation that can easily trap hair or a body part if they become blocked. New, safer drains are designed to be curved so that they can never be fully blocked by a body part. Parents should always confirm with pool and spa owners that they are using anti-entrapment drain covers before allowing children to get in the water. This video from the ZAC Foundation and Abbey’s Hope demonstrate the differences between a dangerous, non-compliant drain cover and a safer, compliant drain cover.
Who’s servicing your pool?
When it comes to new pool installations, renovation, repairs, and/or pool maintenance, it is also important to hire a professional who is licensed, bonded, insured and certified.
Don McChesney, president of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance Central Arizona Chapter, suggests homeowners ask for referrals from other customers the contractor or service person has done work for. “Check their business rating with the BBB and license with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. A licensed contractor is also required to be bonded and provide proof of insurance.”
There are some phases of pool service and maintenance that may not require the company or individual to be a licensed contractor. If that is the case, you still want to protect your home and property. “Be sure they carry insurance in case they or any of their employees were to get hurt while performing services on your property,” McChesney says.
In addition to the license, hiring a professional who stays up to date on the latest technology, techniques, and pool laws and ordinances is key. Professionals who hold certifications such as Certified Pool Operator, Certified Pool & Spa Service Professional and others through the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance are required to continue their education to maintain their certification. That knowledge is used to service and maintain your large investment — the pool.
Members of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association are required to maintain liability insurance, at a minimum of $1,000,000 coverage and pass IPSSA’s Water Chemistry Certification Examination. Remember, it’s not just water the technician is dealing with. There are chemicals that if not handled and mixed properly can cause serious injury and damage.
Other bodies of water
Much of water safety circulates around pools. Keep your safety hat on when around other bodies of water, as well.
At lakes, the Red Cross recommends:
- Be sure you are water competent for natural environments before swimming.
- Always enter unknown or shallow water feet first.
- Watch out for currents, waves, and underwater obstructions — they’re not just found in the ocean.
- Additionally, never hang out or swim behind the boat. Gasoline-powered engines on boats, including onboard generators, produce carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes too much of it, making them lose consciousness and silently drown.
With canals, the Red Cross recommends:
- Don’t swim in them ever.
- Keep a safe distance from the edge of the canals.
- Canal sides are extremely slick, making it difficult to get out.
- Don’t let your kids be around canals without an adult.
- Stay away from automated equipment at water delivery gates.
- Never jump in to rescue pets or objects such as toys. Call 911 for help.
Around the house water safety tips
- The DCPA promotes staying within an arm’s reach of a child when he or she is in or near the bathtub, toilet, pools, spas or buckets.
- Never leave your child alone or in the care of older children during bath time.
- Once bath time is over, immediately drain the tub.
- Empty all buckets, containers, and wading pools immediately after use. Store them upside-down and out of children’s reach.
- Keep toilet lids closed and use toilet seat locks.
- Never leave your child unattended in a tub or around any other body of water, even if he or she knows how to swim.
- Keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
- Children in baby bath seats and rings must be watched every second.
- Pets are not the only ones that fit through doggie doors, small children do too. Be sure the doggie door does not lead directly to the pool area.
Find more water safety tips at Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, PoolSafely.gov and The Red Cross.
Regardless of whether you have a pool, take a few safety classes through the Red Cross. They offer CPR, first aid, water safety and many others.
Keep water safety top of mind all year long to keep you, your family, friends and pets safe.