State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers to Stay Safe While Swimming this Summer

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 14, 2009) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. today urged all New Yorkers to follow common-sense swimming safety tips to ensure their health and well-being this summer.

"Although summer is a fun time of year, it can also be the most dangerous, especially for children, when safety rules for summer water activities are ignored," said Commissioner Daines. "Adhering to proper safety rules and regulations when swimming will help prevent drownings and spinal cord injuries. It's important that all New Yorkers, adults and children alike, educate themselves about swimming and water safety in order to prevent unnecessary injuries."

State and local health department officials regulate approximately 6,250 swimming pools and 1,300 bathing beaches for compliance with the State Sanitary Code. Swimming at a regulated pool or beach provides a safe and healthy environment that is supervised and with ready access to life safety equipment.

On average, approximately 120 New York State residents drown each year, including an average of eight drownings occurring annually at regulated facilities. Among the total deaths that occurred statewide from drowning, the rate was the highest among toddlers. Drowning rates were also higher among teenagers, young adults and those age 65 years or older.

More than half of drownings in children under the age of five occur in private pools. Drownings occur quickly, silently and often happen when a child is left unattended or during a brief lapse in supervision.

To reduce a child's risk of drowning, parents should do the following:

  • Make sure children are constantly supervised by an adult when they are near or in any body of water.
  • Enclose a pool, hot tub or spa with a fence that is at least four feet high with slats that are less than four inches apart.
  • Make sure the fence gate is self-closing, self-latching and out of a child's reach.
  • Teach children to avoid swimming near pool drains.
  • Remove floats, balls or other toys from the pool and the surrounding area immediately after use. (The presence of these toys may encourage children to enter the pool area or lean over the pool and fall in.)
  • Do not drink alcohol while swimming or supervising children in any body of water.
  • Use extra caution if a supervising adult has a medical condition – such as a seizure disorder, diabetes or a heart problem – that may cause a disability, or a loss of consciousness while in the water.
  • Prepare for drowning emergencies by having a cordless phone, emergency numbers, a first-aid kit and rescue equipment near a pool.
  • Be aware that natural bodies of water can have hazards such as currents, deep water, and sudden drop-offs, which can put even a good swimmer at risk.
  • Learn CPR, first aid and water-rescue techniques.

In addition to drownings, diving headfirst into a body of water can be extremely dangerous. Each year in the United States, more than 500 spinal cord injuries occur from diving into a body of water, and more than half of these injuries result in quadriplegia.

To prevent spinal cord injuries, swimmers should not dive into shallow water or water with unknown depth, or into water with potential underwater hazards such as rocks or logs. The American Red Cross recommends a minimum of nine feet of water depth for headfirst dives.

For additional information about safe swimming, please visit http://www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/outdoors/swimming/