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New statistics released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that except for motor vehicle accidents, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of five. Kids in that age group are more than four times as likely to drown as those over the age of 19.

Margaret Keresteci, manager of clinical registries for CIHI, says that for every child who has drowned, there were also six to 10 who almost drowned and required hospitalization. "When you take into account that one in four children in Ontario who experience near-drowning sustain permanent brain damage, you start to get an idea of how vital it is to make water safety a priority."

Most of the drowning accidents (76 per cent) happened when the kids were not swimming, but were playing or walking near water and fell in.

Even an inch of water is enough to drown a small child in seconds. For those who have backyard swimming pools, ponds or other water features on their property, it's important to be vigilant when small children are present. It's just as important that the property is secure when you are not home.

For swimming pools, each municipality sets its own bylaws that spell out fencing requirements. Every pool should have a fence and a gate to keep children away from the pool, and the gate should be kept locked at all times. The areas next to the fence should be kept clear of outdoor furniture and toys, to eliminate the temptation to hop over the fence.

Health Canada says children have drowned in the past because pools were not fenced all the way around, or because the gate to the backyard was not shut all the way or locked, or because a young child has been able to get to the pool through a patio door or a garage door that opens to the backyard.

When the pool is in use, children should be constantly supervised. Health Canada says children under three and those who cannot swim must wear a life jacket or a personal floatation device. It recommends that you take a course on pool safety, first aid, and lifesaving skills such as CPR.

Former Canadian figure skating champion Barbara Underhill, whose eight-month-old daughter drowned in a backyard pool accident 12 years ago, says, "As children move beyond the toddler stage, learning to swim is a necessary life skill. We teach our children bike safety and road safety, but we also need to equip them with the swimming ability necessary for survival."

The Children's Safety Association of Canada also offers these tips for swimming pool safety:

  • Keep lifesaving equipment next to the pool. Don't allow people to play with it, or allow it to be misplaced.
  • Decks should be made of a non-slip surface. They should be kept clean and clear of debris. All cups, glasses and dishes should be non-breakable.
  • If the pool is used at night, it should have enough lighting that the bottom of the pool is clearly visible.
  • Make sure any electrical appliances or devices are protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter, in case they come in contact with the water.
  • Beware that inflatable toys and mattresses can deflate.
  • Only one person should be on the diving board at a time. Don't allow people to swim under the board while it's in use.
  • Go down the slide feet-first only.
  • Don't swim immediately after eating a heavy meal.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Stay out of the water during lightning or rainstorms.

The association also offers tips for pool chemical safety, including:

  • Keep chemicals out of the reach of children or pets.
  • Chemical agents for test kits should be replaced each year.
  • Do not stack different chemicals on top of one another.
  • Store chemicals in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, preferably off the floor.
  • Do not store pool chemicals where other flammable items may mix with them.
  • Make sure to follow manufacturer's instructions.
  • Never add chemicals to the pool while there are swimmers using it.
  • Do not reuse old chemical containers.
  • Don't mix chemicals together.
  • Do not smoke when handling the chemicals.
  • Don't allow them to come into contact your eyes, nose and mouth. Don't inhale the dust or fumes from them. Handle all chemicals carefully.
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