Two IU experts share tips on water safety for those hot summer days spent by the pool or lake. Annie Eakin can be reached at 812-855-9798 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Bill Ramos at 812-855-5990 and email@example.com.
Inflatable arm bands and vests pose a drowning risk, according to Annie Eakin, assistant director for aquatics with IU Bloomington's Division of Recreational Sports. "Arm bands and other inflatable gear can cause a child to tip forward in the water," she explained. Once in this position, it is very difficult for the child to get upright. Even Coast Guard-approved life vests can be a risk if worn incorrectly, Eakin said. Have a qualified instructor teach you and your child how to fasten a vest properly. Inflatable pool toys are also unreliable as flotation devices. "Toys are not lifesaving devices," she said. "Always watch your child and be sure a lifeguard is present."
Boats and booze don't mix. A cold beer on a hot day may be refreshing, but the party should stay on shore, said Annie Eakin, assistant director for aquatics with IU Bloomington's Division of Recreational Sports. "Swimming under the influence is extremely dangerous," she said. "You are less alert to hazards like rocks and weeds and can easily become disoriented." Alcohol is involved in nearly 40 percent of boating fatalities and up to 50 percent of adult and adolescent deaths in recreational swimming accidents. Heat and sun exposure can compound the effects of alcohol. "Don't go in the water when your judgment is impaired," Eakin said.
Too much emphasis on the dangers of water can encourage irrational fears in children, said Annie Eakin, assistant director for aquatics with IU Bloomington's Division of Recreational Sports. "If parents panic around water, it can make the pool seem like a big scary monster," she said. "It's important to set clear rules and boundaries, but then encourage your child to play." Parents can help a child develop confidence in the water by creating a fun atmosphere. Eakin suggested including friends and incorporating toys into pool time. In her 17 years of teaching kids to swim, she has developed steps for coaxing children into the water. "The first day might just be splashing their feet in the water. The next day they might get in and hold onto the side. Maybe on the third day they'll get their heads wet. Once you get them swimming, it's brilliant!"
Retention ponds and construction sites can pose drowning hazards. "Anytime there is gathered water, people, especially children, will be attracted to it," said Bill Ramos, who oversees aquatic program development in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Retention ponds are designed for water drainage management, not for recreation. The water draining into them may contain a variety of chemicals used in lawn and property maintenance, Ramos said. Retention ponds are designed for maximum capacity, so they may be very deep and have a steep drop at the water's edge. In construction sites, a heavy rain can fill holes with water and cause water to rush through ditches. Parents need to know where water gathers and discuss these dangers with their children. Communities should make sure that retention ponds are clearly marked with signs prohibiting swimming.
Open-water swimming requires precautions. Rivers, lakes and ponds hide tires, appliances and other debris that can cause serious injuries and even death. "No matter how often you've been to a place, you need to do a sweep of the area," said Bill Ramos, who oversees aquatic program development in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Rocks, tree limbs and debris can move. Lakes and rivers are always changing." Ramos said an area can be "swept" for safety by walking slowly around in the water and feeling for objects. He added that people should jump into open water feet first instead of diving, even after such sweeps.
Refreshing, cool water can obscure the dangers of sunburn and dehydration, said Bill Ramos, who oversees aquatic program development in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Overexposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer and premature signs of aging. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, fatigue, confusion and even unconsciousness. Water enhances the effect of the sun and can wash off sunscreen. When people swim, they still sweat body fluids and use energy, which can lead to dehydration. Ramos offered the following suggestions:
- Use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. It should be designed to block UVB/UVA radiation. Read the directions on the product and re-apply frequently. Water-based sunscreens wash off more easily in water.
- Make sure a shelter is available to provide an escape from sunlight.
- Wear large-brimmed hats, which can shade the face, ears, neck and shoulders. Popular sports caps only provide a fraction of this coverage.
- Wear clothes when possible and remember that sunlight can penetrate light-colored clothes and mesh.
- Drink plenty of water, sports drinks and decaffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a diuretic and contributes to dehydration.
Home swimming pool and spa ownership is on the rise due to recent innovations that have made pools more affordable and easier to maintain. Owners of a pool or spa, or those considering such a purchase, should be sure to contact the state health department for current construction and safety codes, said Bill Ramos, who oversees aquatic program development in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Pool and spa owners must take all necessary precautions to prevent unauthorized or unsupervised use of these water sources. In addition to common deterrents such as fences and locks, owners should post signs, use a lockable cover when the facility is not in use, and consider purchasing a pool/spa alarm system that will detect motion in or around the water. The greatest safeguards, Ramos said, are to supervise the area at all times when it is in use, talk to all users (family, friends, neighbors) about rules for use, become certified in first aid and CPR, and create and practice an emergency action plan in case an incident should arise. For information on developing a home emergency action plan, contact your local American Red Cross chapter.