Very few people are aware that Spain is the second country in Europe, after France, with the most artificial swimming pools: more than 580,000, of which 86% are in private family homes. Swimming pools are supposed to be places of leisure and relaxation, where you can unwind, soak up the sun, go swimming- a highly recommended all-round sport - and just have a good time. However, year after year, many children suffer lesser or greater injuries through the inappropriate use of swimming pools. In the United States, drowning is the main cause of death among children of one to five years of age and the second cause of death by injury among one to fourteen-year-olds.
Many accidents and injuries happen in private swimming pools. Some are grave enough to cause irreversible spinal cord damage. In fact, 6.5% of these kinds of injuries are caused by incautious diving into swimming pools and rivers. In Spain, more than fifty cases of spinal cord injury are caused by diving every year. These accidents often leave the victim quadriplegic and tend to occur among males between the ages of 15 to 25. Most of these injuries could have been avoided.
Although it may seem unnecessary to say so, everyone who uses public or private swimming pools should know how to swim. Children should be taught to swim as early as possible. Special care should be taken of children with epilepsy and other disorders which may cause unexpected crises. Furthermore, we should all know how to perform CPR in case of an emergency.
Not everything can or should be done in swimming pools. Remaining cautious and vigilant is not only advisable, but also necessary. It is dangerous to jump in backwards, do acrobatics or dive in head first in places where there are rocks, branches or an excessive number of other bathers. It is better to go into the water slowly or jump in feet first before head diving. When jumping off diving boards, you should always jump off the front edge and never from the sides, as well as never run along the side of the swimming pool. When performing a head dive, you should stretch your hands out in front of you and never jump under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You should go down water slides feet first.
Small children should always be under adult supervision. If you lose sight of a child, you should first look for the child in the pool: every second can be a matter of life and death. Rubber rings and other floating objects are not safety devices. Take all toys out of the pool so that the child will not attempt to retrieve them and use protective barriers around the pool in order to stop the child from falling in. You can cover the pool when it is not being used and install motion sensitive alarms. If you have eaten, you should wait two hours before entering the pool and, of course, you should have a shower before getting into the water.
It is advisable to have a life jacket close by, as well as a telephone with emergency numbers. If there is an accident and someone with spinal cord injuries has to be taken away, immobilise the neck and notify a professional so that they may transport the injured person- they should not be transported in private automobiles, but in ambulances with beds specially designed for such purposes.
Dr. Amadeo-M. Rey