Pool Safety For Children

The Early Show: Four-time Olympic medalist, champion swimmer Janet Evans, talks with Tom Bergeron about the importance of pool safety for children.
CBS/The Early Show
In the summer, pools are places for kids to keep cool and have fun. But, the backyard watering hole can also be dangerous.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for kids under the age of 5 and most of those occur in a swimming pool.

Champion swimmer and four-time Olympic gold medallist Janet Evans is making it her mission to raise awareness about pool safety. She visited The Early Show to spread her message and help save some young lives.

Experts estimate that adults can drown in less than two minutes and a child in less than 20 seconds. The time depends on the victim's size and how much water enters the lungs. Once water is inhaled, it gets into the sinus cavities and the lungs and shuts down the system. A child can drown in a 5-gallon bucket of water, or less than four centimeters of water — enough to cover the mouth and nose.

Evans gives the following pool safety tips:

The key to pool safety is constant supervision. Even when a lifeguard is present, parents need to be attuned to what their children are doing in the water. The National Safety Council stresses that lifeguards have to be able to scan a water area within 10 seconds and reach the person in distress within 20 seconds. Parents at private pools often make the mistake of assuming someone else is keeping an eye on young swimmers. Many times children go unsupervised while parents trust lifeguards to babysit or parents just expect children to know better.

Families should have an action plan available in case of emergency. Life preservers should be kept close to a pool. All swimmers in the pool should know where the closest phone is. It is also useful to stage drills and practice what might happen in an emergency situation. Someone in the vicinity of the pool should know CPR and CPR instructions should be posted nearby.

The best tool to stay safe in any kind of water is to learn to swim. Kids can start learning to swim at age 18 months to 2 years. Evans says she could do all four strokes when she was 3. Local swim clubs offer swimming lessons to people of all ages and at different skill levels, so both adults and children can learn. Many children who love playing in pools may not necessarily be good swimmers, able to swim the length of a swimming pool. Parents don't realize that children often play instead of swimming in shallow water. They start bouncing at the shallow end and before they know it, they're in over their head and they panic. Many people perceive swimming as recreation, not a lifesaving skill. Even if kids know how to swim, they can panic. They should be taught to float on their back and call for help if they get in trouble.

Surround the pool with a fence that locks and automatically closes. Parents must make sure that the openings in the fence are no more than four inches wide. If any doors in the house go directly to a pool access area, parents must make sure that they are kept locked at all times. Many drownings occur among first-time homeowners or renters who have never had a pool before and don't know about safeguards, such as having a fence around the pool.

Keep all floats and toys away from the pool when not in use. They can become obstacles for people around the pool to trip over. Toys in the pool can lead curious children to water. Even if children are afraid of water, they could be tempted to retrieve an object from the pool.

Flotation devices and rules for running are other ways to increase pool safety and prevent accidents that can lead to drowning, but they are not a substitute for supervision.

Evans will kick off the "April Pools Day" initiative at the USA Swimming nationals in Fort Lauderdale next week to promote a pool safety educational campaign in 100,000 schools and 2,800 swim clubs around the country.