Water safety: Swimming pools aren’t the only drowning risk for toddlers

Lois Lee, MD, MPH
Lois Lee, MD, MPH, works in Boston Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program.

Every summer seems to bring a tragic reminder of the need for vigilance around children and swimming pools.

Drowning is the second leading cause of injury related death for kids in the U.S. One of the most common scenarios for these accidents involves toddlers drowning in swimming pools—usually when the parent thinks the child is safely inside the house.

Unfortunately, at this age, if a child ends up face down in the water, she usually does not have the cognitive ability or the coordination to pull herself out. Infants can drown in a just a few inches of water in the bathtub, which is why they should NEVER be left unsupervised in the tub. Toddlers can drown in water that is at a level less than their own standing height; so again, they should never be left unsupervised where there is standing water. This includes swimming pools, garden ponds, five gallon tubs and even toilets.

Every parent knows that toddlers need to be closely supervised at all times, but it only takes a blink of an eye for a toddler to wander away and get injured, especially around water. Considering the potential danger water poses, here are some important water safety practices every family should know.

  • Toddlers should not have free access to toilets. The bathroom door should be kept closed at all times, or toilet locks can be used.
  • If you have a swimming pool, it must be surrounded by a four-sided fence that is at least four feet tall and is NOT connected to the house. Pool covers are not enough protection. shutterstock_163939679
  • If you have a decorative pond or fish pond, toddlers should never have access to this area—a gate or wall should prevent any unassisted child access.
  • When in use, five-gallon tubs should have adult supervision near at all times. When not in use, they should be overturned so they can not collect water, because buckets of that size present a very serious drowning hazard should a child fall in head first.

Again, vigilance is always important, but you can help prevent a drowning injury by also instituting these water safety practices.

Learn more services offered by Boston Children’s Injury Prevention Program.