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On Guard: Expert Advice to Help Prevent Drownings

By Barbara Byers

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Whether for lazy lounging, cooling off, or hosting parties, backyard pools are a wonderful way to enjoy the company of neighbours, friends, or family members.

Summertime is the best time of year for most Canadians—splashing about in the family or neighbour’s pool is a quintessential activity during those hot and excitement-filled months. Whether for lazy lounging, cooling off, or hosting parties, backyard pools are a wonderful way to enjoy the company of neighbours, friends, or family members. Unfortunately, they can also be dangerous.

Drowning is the main cause of unintentional injury deaths among children aged one to four, and the second leading cause for children younger than 10. When a child drowns, word spreads quickly and news reports drive home the tragedy of these life-altering events and how they could have been prevented. For parents or pool owners, this is a nightmare filled with what-ifs and whys.

Not like in the movies

Unfortunately, the scenario leading up to a drowning is all-too familiar. In many cases, a child inadvertently gets out of the house after a door or entry has been left open or unlocked, usually due to human error. The child is thought to be safe inside, but someone else—often another adult or an older child—has left a door opened or unlocked. Likewise, each year there are tragic stories of children who drowned in a pool because an adult turned their back or eyes for a minute to answer the phone, talk to someone, flip the burgers on the barbecue, get a towel, or any number of things. Although precautions were taken, human error has led to the drowning.

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Always remove inflatable toys from a pool when they are not in use, as they can flip over and trap a child underwater. They can also be extremely tempting to a child when left floating.

Many people are surprised to know that drowning is fast, silent, and preventable, and that unless you have your eyes completely focused on those in the water, you won’t see someone in trouble.

Sadly, toddlers often make little noise when they tumble into a pool. In addition, children—or adults for that matter—don’t shout for help when drowning, or splash about and wave their arms as we have seen countless times on TV or in films. In fact, most people who are drowning are unable to call for help. Without enough time above the surface to inhale, exhaling to form speech is impossible. Also, a drowning person’s natural instinct is to press their arms downward to remain above the surface, hence they are unlikely to wave for help. As parents, grandparents, and caregivers, you need to know that if you are not within arm’s reach and watching your child at every moment, you are too far away to do anything.

Yet, even when there are several adults around the pool, it may be that they believe others are watching the children when they may in fact be caught up in conversation with someone else and aren’t ‘on guard.’ To help backyard pool owners and parents with what to do when young children are in the backyard pool area, the Lifesaving Society has created the ‘ON GUARD’ card. The card is attached to a lanyard and provides the wearer with important safety messages for keeping young children and non-swimmers safe.

Available for purchase directly from the Lifesaving Society, the ON GUARD card is accompanied by a brochure clearly stating a safety supervisor should be designated and that it should be passed to the next adult when that person is called away. This card is a must for all backyard pool owners. It is also a great item for pool builders and suppliers to purchase for their clients.

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