Feature Article - July 2011
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Making Waves

New Strides in Aquatic Safety

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Fast Facts About Swimming and Drowning

Still not convinced that investing in drowning prevention efforts and providing early-childhood swim lessons makes sense? Perhaps these facts and figures, gathered by the USA Swimming Foundation for the 2011 National Drowning Prevention Symposium (held April 14 to 16, 2011, in Colorado Springs) and for their Make a Splash program, will provide some motivation:

  • Drowning is a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14.
  • Children between the ages of 1 and 2 represented about half of all submersion injuries from 2005 to 2009.
  • Most drownings and submersion injuries to children under age 5 during that period involved a swimming pool.
  • A recent study commissioned by USA Swimming and conducted by the University of Memphis found that nearly 70 percent of African-American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children have low or no swim ability, compared to 40 percent of Caucasians. According to the study, parental fear is a major contributor to a child's swimming ability.
  • Nine people drown each day in the United States, and in ethnically diverse communities, the youth drowning rate is more than double the national average.

Maintaining Healthy Water

Just as the USLSC has been scrutinizing training standards and practices for lifeguards, the CDC and public health and pool industry experts around the country (again with funding from the NSPF) have begun working together to tackle the challenge of identifying and maintaining appropriate health standards in aquatic facilities.

"In the United States, there is no federal regulatory authority for disinfected recreational venues; all pool codes are developed, reviewed and approved by state and/or local public health officials," the CDC reports on the project's Web site. "As a result, there are no uniform, national standards governing the design, construction, operation and maintenance of swimming pools and other treated recreational water venues." For example, regulations for dealing with recreational water illnesses (RWIs) vary significantly across the country.

To solve this problem and provide pool owners and managers across the country with a consolidated resource, this collection of professionals is working to create a Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), which will serve as a guide for those looking to make their own facilities and aquatic health policies the best and safest they can be. "The Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) is intended to transform the typical health department program into a data-driven, knowledge-based, risk reduction effort to prevent disease and injuries and promote healthy recreational water experiences," explains the CDC.

The project team has developed rigorous standards and procedures for creating each of the 13 modules that will make up the MAHC. Subject areas include everything from operator training to air quality to water disinfection to facility design, and although an assortment of experts produces the initial draft of each section, after review by the steering committee and editing for consistency, it is posted for public comment and review. After others from the field have had a chance to weigh in, the experts then review the comments and revise the section accordingly. You can examine each of the modules and get an update on their status by visiting www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/structure-content/.