Tenenbaum: Drownings are a sad reminder of the need for pool safety steps

A memorial in front of the Naples Avenue

A memorial in front of the Naples Avenue home in Central Islip, where victims Sharon Knowles, 7, and her brother Ralph Knowles, 5, lived. The brother and sister were found in a backyard pool on Half Mile Road on April 14, 2013, and died a short time later. (April 15, 2013) (Credit: James Carbone)

It's impossible to read about the tragic drowning deaths of 7-year-old Sharon Knowles and her 5-year-old brother Ralph last Sunday in a neighbor's backyard pool in Central Islip, without thinking about the grief that is being experienced by their family and friends. At a time like this, we wonder what could have been done to prevent this tragedy, and how to prevent other families and friends from experiencing a similar, preventable loss of life.

During the four years I've served as chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, one of the most difficult parts of my job has been reading the stories and meeting the families of children who drowned. Sadly, these drownings happen all over the country and not just in the summertime.

Drowning prevention must take place year round. The Consumer Product Safety Commission established its Pool Safely campaign to educate parents and caregivers about adopting simple water safety steps. The Pool Safely campaign aims to reduce child drownings, near-drownings and drain entrapments in all pools -- including those in schools, hotels and backyards. We advocate layers of protection, constant supervision of children in and around the water, making sure children learn how to swim, and installing safer drain covers.


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In an effort to save lives, the Pool Safely campaign urges parents, children, pool owners, state and local governments, and safety organizations to:

* Be a "water watcher." Stay close, be alert, and watch children in and around the pool. Never leave a child unattended in a pool and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water.

* Learn and practice water safety skills. Teach your child how to swim and learn to perform CPR on children and adults.

* Have the right equipment. Install a proper fence around the pool with appropriate gates and locks.

Our campaign focuses on populations most at risk of drowning: children younger than 5, who represent 75 percent of child drowning fatalities on average; and African-American and Hispanic children between the ages of 5 and 14, who drown at higher rates than Caucasian children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their white peers. This disparity is unacceptable and must be addressed.

The best way we can honor Sharon and Ralph Knowles and other child drowning victims is to practice safety steps: teach all children to swim, teach parents to be water watchers, and ensure that all pools have proper fencing and other safety features. Though summer is still months away, our vigilance in ensuring that all children use the pool safely must start today, and last the whole year through.

Inez M. Tenenbaum is chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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