Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Why International Guidelines?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on July 25, 2012

The risk management arm of the U.S. National Park Service encouraged all the national parks to adopt the International Open Water Safety Guidelines in their recent newsletter.  they interviewed Dr. Linda Quan, one of the primary authors of the guidelines, and listed the guidelines. The U.S. National Park Service joins the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance in the U.S. in supporting the guidelines, as well as a number of prominent organizations in other countries.

I’ve had a number of questions and skepticism surrounding adoption of the guidelines.  Why adopt international guidelines?  What is the use of yet more rules that no one follows?  As with any great idea, success is in the implementation.  Using a rubber-stamp adoption of the guidelines and filing them in a memo renders them worthless.  Consistently and actively promoting the guidelines, not just one organization, but many organizations, creates a powerful message for the public.

If you doubt the importance of consistent and active messaging, I have only one word for you – STOP.  Imagine the chaos if the word STOP was not consistently and actively promoted for auto safety.  What if each state or local government decided to be creative?  Our brain has been trained to recognize STOP and react quickly – what if we had to sort through such commands as look both ways and if any other traffic is coming you need to stop or come to a complete halt?  Heck, toss in some legal language to protect each organization from legal liability.  If you proceed through the intersection without stopping and are hit by another vehicle proceeding at an equally fast pace and  either bodily harm or property damage occurs to either party upon impact then the municipality of xyz town is not responsible in any way having issued due warning.  By the time anyone read the first 4 words they’d have been involved in a possibly fatal accident. Let’s look at the alternative.  STOP.  Consistent and active messaging that has resulted in the human brain taking nanoseconds to recognize the word and react.  Traffic stops.  accidents are largely avoided.

We in drowning prevention forget that the rules of water safety are not even remotely obvious to the general public and it is imperative that we tell them how to be safe consistently, actively and repetitively – using the same words until those words become so ingrained that parents will routinely say to their children swim in areas with a lifeguard What about the number of messages?  There are too many guidelines to assimilate all at once, so focus on what is appropriate at the time.  Put obey all signs and safety flags in big letters right over the description of what the flags mean.  If you have a long stretch of partially guarded beach, post swim in areas with a lifeguard near the access points to unguarded areas with a map showing where the guarded areas are located. There are many areas where creativity is appropriate – but for water safety let’s start with getting the basics down before we go adding bells and whistles. Again, the International Open Water Safety Guidelines are:

Care of Self

  • Learn swimming and water survival skills.
  • Always swim with others.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.
  • Never go in the water after drinking alcohol.
  • Know how and when to use a life jacket.
  • Swim in areas with a lifeguard.
  • Know the weather and water conditions before getting in the water.
  • Always enter shallow and unknown water feet first.

Care of Others

  • Help and encourage others, especially children, to learn swimming and
  • water safety survival skills.
  • Swim in areas with lifeguards.
  • Set water safety rules.
  • Always provide close and constant attention to children you are supervising in or near water.
  • Know how and when to use a life jacket, especially with children and weak swimmers.
  • Learn first aid and CPR.
  • Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.
  • Obey all safety signs and warning flags.

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