Public health professionals: How to prevent drowning in your community | Aug 14, 2017

One of the biggest advantages of holding a Master of Public Health is the ability to make an impact within your community. Those with this level of skill and knowledge can educate citizens and work with local organizations to tackle some of the most pervasive health and safety issues in the area.

Arizona and the surrounding regions have experienced an incredibly warm summer, and as a result, people have been flocking to public pools, lakes and other local bodies of water to cool off. However, with so many taking this route to seek relief from the heat, it’s important to be especially conscious of water safety.

Each year, news of drowning deaths rock communities across the globe. With the right education and awareness, public health professionals can help reduce the chances that such an event will take place in their communities.

A look at the numbers: Annual drowning incidents

Unfortunately, drowning deaths take place more often than many individuals realize:
● Approximately 10 drowning deaths take place every day, not including those connected with boating incidents. More than 3,500 unintentional drowning deaths took place each year from 2005 to 2015, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
● Most drowning deaths involve children – 1 out of every 5 deaths are those 14 years of age or younger, and for each of these deaths, another five children require medical care for nonfatal water submersion injuries.
● Overall, 30 percent of all deaths of children under five come as a result of drowning.
● More than half of people who receive emergency medical services after a drowning incident also require subsequent hospitalization or other care for their injuries.

Drowning incidents capture headlines

Incidents involving drowning victims – especially within the local community – can garner considerable attention. This is particularly true when these events take place at public pools or other, more accessible places.

In early August 2017, The News Tribune reported on the case of an 8-year-old boy who died after nearly drowning in the waters of a public pool in Tacoma, Washington. The child was found unconscious and was removed from the water of the Stewart Heights public pool on July 27, and spent several days at the local children’s hospital.

The child passed away on August 3 after succumbing to the injuries sustained during submersion. An investigation found that the boy was not in significantly deep water at the time of the incident – the area he was pulled from was under four feet deep. However, as this case shows, even shallow waters can pose a danger.

In addition, it isn’t just public pools that can be a threat, as a recent incident involving a 43-year-old man in Maricopa County demonstrates. AZ Central reported the victim died after wading into the Salt River to remove a piece of garbage or debris. The man, identified as Nicasio Lopez, was known to regularly clean up the water in the area, but was swept away by a strong current and could not be revived after being pulled from the water by onlookers.

Child drownings increase in Arizona: Increased awareness needed

As public health professionals look to combat the threat of drowning, it’s important to understand the current condition of the local region – especially within warm-weather areas where water safety is a year-round concern. The Phoenix New Times recently reported on a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study showing an increase in child drownings in Arizona, underscoring the need for increased awareness and safety training for citizens in the area.

“‘Watch your children around water’ is a message Arizonans – who have higher-than-average swimming-pool ownership – have heard repeatedly over the years,” Phoenix New Times contributor Ray Stern wrote. “But according to new statistics, that message too often goes unheeded.”

The study found that 24 children drowned last year in Arizona, an increase from the 20 incidents reported in 2015. Even more worrisome is the fact that these figures may be higher than the study suggests, due to the fact that not all drowning incidents are reported by the media, and researchers couldn’t feasibly go through every publication in the state.

What’s more, the CDC found that Arizona has particularly high child drowning rates – 25 percent higher than the national average for children between 1 and 4 years of age. And while the state takes part in several public safety campaigns and community events, additional awareness and education is needed, as well as the continuing support of knowledgeable public health professionals.

Near-drowning complications

There are several dangerous health hazards connected with near drowning. Healthline noted that a near-drowning victim may be unconscious or unresponsive and have cold or bluish skin, chest pain and abdominal swelling at the time of incident. Near-drowning victims may also have symptoms like cough, lack of or shortness of breath and vomiting.

After a victim is rescued from the water, health complications from the incident can occur, including:
● Acute respiratory distress syndrome.
● Pneumonia.
● Brain damage.
● Imbalances in the body, including chemical and fluid.
● Permanent vegetative state.

Drowning prevention: Educating the right audience

Overall efforts to prevent drowning or near-drowning begin with awareness. The public should be made aware of the rising threat, the most effected demographic and the most dangerous places.
It’s important for public health professionals to ensure that information about water safety best practices reaches the right audience. Education surrounding drowning prevention should encompass several groups, including local parents, lifeguards and those in charge of public pools.

Best practices for lifeguards

As continual supervision is one of the main cornerstones of drowning prevention, lifeguards represent an important part of these efforts. They have to constantly stay alert, provide warnings to the public accordingly, and know the facility capabilities and procedurals.

All lifeguards, employed by public or private pools and beaches, should receive adequate training to ensure that they can identify a person struggling in the water, and can provide a certain level of care in the event of a near-drowning until emergency personnel arrive. All lifeguards should be CPR certified, and should understand how to properly use life rings, floats and other available emergency equipment.

Best practices for parents

Public health professionals should also look to educate parents and guardians, particularly within states like Arizona with higher-than-usual drowning rates.

Even in public locations with a lifeguard present, parents should always supervise their children. In addition, the American Red Cross recommends that guardians instill the buddy-system practice with their children, and underscore the importance of never swimming unattended or alone in any body of water.

“Actively supervise kids whenever around the water – even if lifeguards are present,” the American Red Cross noted. “Do not just drop your kids off at the public pool or leave them at the beach – designate a responsible adult to supervise. Always stay within arm’s reach of young children and avoid distractions when supervising children around the water.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, parents should ensure that their children learn to swim and have the proper water-safety skills. Many public pools offer swim lesson programs, allowing parents to find a nearby class that suits their child or children’s needs.

“Drowning is 100 percent preventable, so if we can be more aware of the risks we face we can certainly prevent it,” noted Lori Schmidt, Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona president.

How public health professionals can make a difference

When it comes to public health professionals’ role in drowning prevention, there are several things those in this sector can do to help their community:
Organizing community events: Hosting gatherings in the community to place a spotlight on drowning prevention and water safety at public pools is an important step for awareness. What’s more, an event like that can be successful for bringing together parents and children in a friendly and secure environment.
Partnering with local and national agencies: There are also several local and global organizations that can assist health professionals with their drowning prevention efforts. Groups like the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance have information and resources that health professionals can integrate into their education and training activities. Partnering with local community organizations like the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona can also help support the success of professionals’ efforts.
Publicizing information about water safety training and swim lessons: Alongside raising awareness about the threat of drowning, public health professionals should also circulate information about the kinds of training and lesson programs the community offers.

Through these types of efforts, public health professionals can work to reduce the threat of drowning and near-drowning health risks within their community. Before these can take place, however, the proper education to support such a role is needed.

A Master of Public Health from the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health can put you on the career path to improve the health and safety of your community.

Recommended Readings:
Why you want an MPH for a career in health services administration
Use your MPH to Become a Health Educator