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Drowning deaths tragic, unnecessary
Health advice
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Drownings are very common on the Georgia coast. In fact, they are the second-most frequent cause of death from unintentional injuries in Georgians under age 30.
While it is generally believed that most drownings occur in swimming pools, this is not true for our state. Lakes, ponds, farm ponds and borrow pits usually account for around 46 percent of all aquatic deaths, while pools account for only 14 percent. Twenty-six percent of drownings in Georgia occur in rivers and creeks.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, between 60-90 percent of drownings among children under age 4 do usually occur in residential pools. More than half of those occur at the child’s own home. They also note that 60 percent fewer drownings occur in pools with four-sided isolation fencing than pools without fencing.
Most drownings — 45 percent — occur while the victim is swimming, and males account for 91 percent of these. The other activities that lead to drownings included falling into the water, boating (including water skiing), bathtub use, wading, fishing and attempts to rescue a drowning victim.
Overall, rates were highest for children under age 5 and for young adults, ages 15-24 years. The highest rate was for children younger than 1 and 69 percent of drowning victims younger than 1 drown in bathtubs. Regardless of race, males are at greater risk of drowning than females.
Tragic water accidents happen very quickly. The most common reason for drownings or other water mishaps is a lack of knowledge about water-safety issues. So please read the following safety tips and have a safe summer (we don’t want to read about a drowning in your family):
• Learn to swim. Enroll yourself and your children ages 4 and older in swimming classes.
• Swim near a lifeguard or experienced swimmer. Follow regulations and lifeguard directions and if you are in trouble, call or wave for help.
• Never swim alone or in unsupervised places. Teach children to always swim with a buddy.
• If a child is missing, check the pool first. Go to the edge of the pool and scan the entire pool, bottom and surface, as well as the surrounding pool area.
• Supervise children closely. Maintain constant supervision even when lifeguards are present. Watch children around any water environment (pool, stream, lake, tub, toilet, bucket of water), no matter what skills your child has acquired and no matter how shallow the water. The use of flotation devices and inflatable toys should never replace parental supervision.
• Don’t rely on flotation devices, such as rafts, you may lose them in the water.
• If caught in a rip current at the beach, swim sideways until free, don’t swim against the current’s pull.
• Remember, alcohol and swimming don’t mix.
• Swim parallel to shore if you wish to swim long distances.
• Scuba dive only if trained and certified, and within the limits of your training.
• Report hazardous conditions to lifeguards or other beach management personnel.
• Stay clear of coastal bluffs, they can collapse and cause severe injuries.
• Select an area that has good water quality and safe natural conditions. Murky water, hidden underwater objects, unexpected drop-offs and aquatic plant life can be hazards. Water pollution can cause health problems for swimmers and strong tides, big waves and currents can turn a fun event into a tragedy.
• Never turn your back to the ocean. You may be swept off coastal bluffs or tide pool areas and into the water by waves that can come without warning.
• Install a phone by the pool or keep a cordless phone nearby so you can call 911 in an emergency. Learn CPR and insist that babysitters, grandparents and others who care for your child know it. Post CPR instructions and your local emergency number in the pool area.
• Enclose the pool completely with a self-locking, self-closing fence with vertical bars. Openings in the fence should be no more than four inches wide. If the house is part of the barrier, the doors leading from the house to the pool should remain locked and be protected with an alarm that produces sounds when the door is unexpectedly opened. Never leave furniture near the fence that would enable a child to climb over the fence.
• Always keep basic lifesaving equipment by the pool and know how to use it. A pole, rope and personal flotation devices are all recommended.
• Make sure the water is deep enough before diving. The American Red Cross recommends nine feet as a minimum depth for diving or jumping. Too many swimmers are seriously injured every year by entering headfirst into water that is too shallow. A feet first entry is much safer.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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