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Pool Resources for a Safe Summer

Simple precautions can prevent injuries -- or worse

SATURDAY, June 16, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Swimming pools provide what many consider the perfect place to exercise or relax on a hot summer day. But pools also provide the perfect environment for serious injury to those who aren't careful.

For example, more than 850 spinal-cord injuries result from diving accidents every year, according to the American Spinal Injury Association.

And if you think that could never happen in your backyard pool, consider this: More than 300 of those injuries occur in home pools.

"There are swimming pool tragedies all too often that wind up in spinal injury, brain damage and even death," says Dr. Stuart Hirsch, chairman of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons' communications counsel.

"When there's water around, it really means a different level of caution than almost any other level of play -- whether you're a child or adult -- because of the potential danger."

The typical scenario leading to spinal injury involves simple misjudgment, adds Dr. David Grossman, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center.

"There could be any number of reasons for the misjudgment -- a person is intoxicated, the pool isn't marked, they're too young, etcetera. But what happens is there will be an impact to the head, right on top of the skull. That leads to a compression fracture of the spine, which is where the bone is -- basically like a car hitting a wall. It just crushes onto itself and usually leads to a spinal-cord injury," Grossman says.

Many people are also surprised to learn that drownings aren't rare in home pools.

Children face the biggest risk, especially when left unsupervised by adults.

"Many drownings involving children will have occurred when they were left alone for a little as five minutes," Hirsch says. "That's why it's so important to teach kids pool safety as early as possible. If they're old enough to walk on their own, they should be getting some kind of safety instruction."

Parents, and even pool owners with no children, need to take responsibility for making sure their pool area is as safe as possible, Hirsch adds.

"The No. 1 step they need to take is to make sure there is appropriate fencing around the pool. In addition, the locks on pools need to be relatively child-proof," he says.

Here are some other tips developed by the American Spinal Injury Association to help make your pool a little safer for everyone:

  • Set enforceable hours for pool use.
  • Don't allow guests to swim alone or to consume alcohol or drugs while in the water.
  • Always have someone present who is trained in water safety and life-saving techniques.

And the American Academy of Orthopaedics offers this safety check list:

  • Are there depth indicators clearly visible around the pool?
  • Is the pool and surrounding area well-lighted for night use?
  • Does your pool have a designated diving area?

What To Do

Read more about swimming safety in these HealthDay stories.

And here's a good list of Summer Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SOURCES: Interviews with Stuart Hirsch, M.D., chairman, communications counsel, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; David Grossman, M.D., director, Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center, and professor of pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle; statistics from the American Spinal Injury Association and the University of Alabama at Birmingham
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