Are Residential Swimming Pools Safe?

Because we are a rich country we have more residential pools than the rest of the world. Because we have more residential pools, more of us learn to swim at an early age and so fewer of us accidentally drown than the rest of the world.

For example, worldwide, drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death (1) while in the U.S. it is the sixth leading cause of unintentional injury death.

Within the US, those with less access to swimming pools suffer higher rates of drowning; for example, Black children drown at a rate almost three times (2) the overall rate. Know why? Because most black children can't swim. Know why they can't swim? Because fewer of them have access to swimming pools. That's not my opinion - that's the opinion of the Centers for Disease Control. (3)

That's why we taught our granddaughter to swim before she could walk. By the time she was two years old she was swimming from one end of the pool to the other (28 feet).

This is not to say that swimming pools are never dangerous. Cars are dangerous, but the fatality rate has been lowered over the years through education (wearing seat belts) and engineering (air-bags). Similarly pool accidents can be lowered through education (teaching infants to swim) and engineering (baby-barriers (4) and drain covers).

For those of my readers wondering what drain covers have to do with pool safety, let me mention that very large pools, such as public swimming pools, have drains at the bottom with tremendous suction power. For a few dollars this problem can be entirely eliminated with a drain cover that completely protects small swimmers from getting caught by the powerful suction action of those drains.

In addition, not all infant drownings are in pools, for example, more than half of drownings among infants (under age 1) occur in bathtubs, buckets or toilets.

Although almost 5,000 children 14 and under go to the hospital annually because of accidental near-drownings (in pools, oceans, ponds, rivers, etc.), such accidents are nothing compared to the number of children bitten by dogs each year. For example, every year, year in and year out, there are more than 4.5 million incidents of dogs biting someone, the majority of whom are children. More than 800,000 Americans, half of them children, require medical attention for those bites (5).

If you have a calculator handy, that means your child is 80 times more likely to require medical attention for a dog bite than for a pool accident. Pools are many times safer than having a dog in the family if there are small children in the house; see my article National Disgrace - Dog Attacks.



World Health Organization, Drowning

Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.

The global burden and death from drowning is found in all economies and regions, however:

  • low- and middle-income countries account for 96% of unintentional drowning deaths;

  • over 60% of the world's drowning occurs in the WHO Western Pacific Region and WHO South-East Asia Region;

  • drowning death rates are highest in the WHO African Region, and are more than eight times higher than in Australia or the United States of America (USA);

  • China and India have particularly high drowning mortality rates and together contribute 43% of the world's drowning deaths and 41% of the total global DALYs1 (disability-adjusted life years) lost related to drowning.


USA Today, 1 May 2008, Study: Black children 3 times more likely to drown

Nearly 60% of African-American children can't swim, almost twice the figure for white children, according to a first-of-its-kind survey which USA Swimming hopes will strengthen its efforts to lower minority drowning rates and draw more blacks into the sport.

Stark statistics underlie the initiative by the national governing body for swimming. Black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate.


CDC, Injury Prevention & Control: Home and Recreational Safety

The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range.


Factors such as the physical environment (e.g., access to swimming pools) and a combination of social and cultural issues (e.g., wanting to learn how to swim, and choosing recreational water-related activities) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates.


Edgar Snyder & Associates, Swimming Injury Statistics

Four-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the house and the yard has shown to decrease the number of drowning injuries anywhere from 50 to 90 percent.


CDC, Dog Bite: Fact Sheet PDF

Man and woman's best friend bites more than 4.7 million people a year...

Each year, 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites; half of these are children. Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about 16 die.

### End of my article ###

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