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Water safety key to safe summer

Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 3:08 p.m. CDT
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Carol Waggoner, public health nurse/health educator with the McHenry County Department of Health

With the approach of warm weather, many of us are looking forward to enjoying time at the beach or pool. In anticipation of these activities, death or injuries aren’t the first thing on our minds.

However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children ages 1 to 14 and the fifth-leading cause for people of all ages.

Drowning often happens quickly and silently. A drowning victim can lose consciousness in the water in as little as 20 seconds.

Most water-related accidents can be avoided with awareness of aquatic hazards and following a few simple guidelines.

Learn to swim. Formal swimming lessons can help to prevent drowning. However, even when children and adults know how to swim, close supervision and safety precautions still are needed. Always teach children to ask permission before going in or near any body of water.

Watch swimmers in or around the water. Designate a responsible adult to supervise swimmers. The designated watcher should not be involved in any distracting activity, such as reading or talking on the phone. Actively supervise children around the water, even if a lifeguard is present.

Note that small children can drown in a small amount of water. Use safety locks on toilets. Empty cleaning buckets and wading pools immediately after use. Never leave a young child unsupervised in the bathtub and do not rely on aids that help a child sit upright in the bathtub.

Know the water hazards in your community. This can include neighborhood retention ponds and garden ponds. If a child is missing, check any area with water first.

Be aware of natural water hazards, such as rip tides, when you vacation or swim in unfamiliar places. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward the shore. Cold temperatures and underwater hazards also can make these areas dangerous. Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags.

Use Coast Guard-approved life jackets regardless of distance to be traveled, size of boat or swimming ability. According to the CDC, in 2010, more than 88 percent of the boaters who drowned were not wearing life jackets. Be cautious with use of air-filled toys such as “water wings” or foam noodles, as these can give children and inexperienced swimmers a false sense of security.

Avoid alcohol. According to the CDC, alcohol is involved in up to 70 percent of deaths associated with water recreation. Also, adults should not drink alcohol when supervising young children around the water.

Avoid spinal injuries. It is difficult to estimate water depth and to see hidden objects underwater in natural bodies of water. Head, neck, or back injuries can occur from hitting the bottom or striking an object in pools also.

For more information on water safety, visit www.redcross.org or www.cdc.gov.

• Carol Waggoner, BSN, RN, is a public health nurse/health educator with the McHenry County Department of Health, American Red Cross water safety instructor trainer and an American Red Cross lifeguard instructor .trainer.

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