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Above-Ground Pools are Drowning Risk to Children


Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children 1 to 14 years of age. Wading pools and above-ground pools, while a great source of summer fun, can also be a drowning place.

Gary A. Smith, MD, of Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues found 209 children younger than 12 drowned in portable, above-ground pools from 2001 to 2009. During the same time period, 35 additional children survived near drowning events.

Smith and colleagues retrospective study used injury and fatality data compiled by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission from 2001 through 2009. The study is published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Wading pools are inexpensive. Inflatable above-ground pools are much less expensive than in-ground pools. Owners of inflatable above-ground pools often do not take protective measures or fences to prevent unsupervised use. Pool regulations do not consistently cover above-ground.

Smith and colleagues found a mean of 27 drowning cases per year occurred in wading or inflatable above-ground pools. The majority (94%) of the events involved children younger than 5 years and involved boys (56%).

Summer (81%) is the season when most drowning events occurred involving wading pools or inflatable above-ground pools.

The tragic event is most likely to occur in the child’s own backyard (73%) occurred in the child's own yard or a relative's home (15%). Other locations included the homes of friends and neighbors.

It only takes a couple of inches of water to drown. Smith and colleagues found that 41% of the cases occurred in pools with 18 inches or less of water.

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Lack of (39%) or a lapse in (17%) adult supervision was found to be involved in most of the cases, though 26% involved active adult supervision.

Smith and colleagues notes “No single strategy will prevent all submersion deaths and injuries; therefore, layers of protection are recommended.” The most important is close supervision.

Wading pools should be empted when not in use. Adults should actively supervise the child.

Above-ground pools should be treated as in-ground pools when considering safety. Install fencing that is at least four feet high and cannot easily be climbed over.

Locking or securing ladders also would help, but most ladders for these small pools have no locking mechanism.

Other options include promptly emptying the pool when not in use and providing swimming and water safety lessons and training.

Basic pool safety:

  1. Children should never be near or in a pool unsupervised, even for one moment.
  2. Children younger than 5 years of age should be within an arm’s length of an adult at all times.
  3. There should be an adult (life guard or pool owner) who knows CPR in attendance.
  4. Keep a phone nearby. Keep rescue equipment (life preserver or shepherd’s hook) available and know where it is.
  5. Air-filled "swimming aids" are not a substitute for approved life vests or supervision.
  6. Remember, teaching your child how to swim DOES NOT mean your child is safe in water.

Shields B, et al "Pediatric submersion events in portable above-ground pools in the United States, 2001-2009" Pediatrics 2011; 128: 45-52.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention