Drowning is 5th leading cause of unintentional death, 2 kids drown each day, officials say

May is National Water Safety Month
Drowning is 5th leading cause of unintentional death, 2 kids drown each day, officials say
FreeImages.com/Michel Meynsbrughen

As pools around the Madison area prepare to open in a couple of weeks, the American Red Cross has a warning out about water safety: Every day in the U.S., 10 people die on average from unintentional drowning.

The data shows two of those 10 are kids under the age of 14, and drowning consistently ranks as the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the country. For every child who dies from drowning, another five will visit the emergency room for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Every May, the American Red Cross coordinates an annual awareness campaign in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association and the World Waterpark Association.

Their aim is simple: to encourage safer water practices to prevent drownings and water-related injuries.

“70% of children that drown are in the care of both of their parents,” said Amy Horvath of SwimWest in Fitchburg. “75% of them are only gone for five minutes.”

SwimWest mailed 10,000 “Water Watcher” cards to Madison-area families, which are intended to show that one person should always be given the job of watching kids when they’re near a pool.

“I know you have friends over, or you’re having a BBQ, but this is a time when one person needs to be that water watcher,” said Horvath. “Not thinking someone else will do it. Designate someone to watch those children. And be diligent with them. If you have that baby pool out in your yard, empty it out and turn it over, so the kids don’t go into it later.”

It takes just a couple of inches of water for a person, kid or adult, to drown.

Coaches at SwimWest say it’s almost never too early to start swim lessons. Survival lessons can be taken by kids as young as six months.

Some other safety tips:

Only swim in designated areas that are staffed by lifeguards
Put a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket on all non-swimmers
Install barriers like pools covers or child alarms on pools if you have one at home
Learn how to properly perform CPR

However, if you have to resort to using CPR, it may already be too late. “If they’re rescued later on in the drowning, then they’ve been without oxygen,” said Horvath. “And that has a lifelong challenge. They could be a vegetable. They could have trouble functioning and need a caregiver for the rest of their lives.”

The Red Cross says as many as 20% of near-drowning survivors suffer severe permanent neurological disability.

Now in its ninth year, National Water Safety Month has gotten the attention of governors from every state, each signing water safety proclamations.