The Drowning Risk You Can’t See — Are Summer Camps and Public Pools Safe?

The Drowning Risk You Can’t See — Are Summer Camps and Public Pools Safe?

Finally, summer is upon us – time for kids to enjoy the warm weather and the outdoors, perhaps by attending summer camp or going to the municipal or hotel pool. But, just how safe is your child when it comes to enjoying the water away from home? The answer might surprise you.

We cannot stress enough the importance of water safety when it comes to children. According to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), drowning is the leading cause of death for children under 5, and 88% of child drownings occur with at least one adult present.

Just who is watching our kids? When it comes to public pools, we rely on a safe environment, trusting the lifeguard staffing and maintenance practices. But do we know how well-qualified and responsible those lifeguards are? Often, they are teenagers paid minimum wage who may not be highly experienced. Compounding the issue are the staffing losses and related impact on training and certification programs during the Covid-19 pandemic that have fueled critical lifeguard shortages. When there are shortages, the chances of hiring less qualified personnel increases.

Summer camps present their own safety challenges. Not all states have licensing requirements for camps, and when they do, not all camps may be included. For example, Pennsylvania does not require a license for day camps. And, even if a camp does require licensing, the criteria are not consistent. Low-paid and often younger teenage counselors, whose positions are multi-faceted, may not be adequately trained or mature enough to provide a high level of water safety. Sadly, camp drownings happen, even under counselor supervision.

Beyond human safety measures, there is another little-known risk to children hidden below the water’s surface in pools – the pool drain. Drains that are not properly protected with anti-entrapment covers are powerful suction hazards that can trap children underwater where they cannot be easily seen. In addition to hair entrapment, commercial pool drains can cause grave physical damage to young bodies. And while there have been laws in place to ensure public pool drain safety for some years, not all pools are in compliance.

As a parent, what can you do?

  • Ask about camp accreditation. The American Camp Association offers accreditation with government-recognized standards that focus on health, safety, and risk management. An accredited camp is a safer bet for your child.
  • Ask how the camp or municipality recruits, hires, and trains its employees. Are lifeguards CPR and first aid certified? Are they required to have background checks? Does the employer offer recurring training and certification?
  • Ask if the pool is in compliance with federal and state safety requirements. Specifically focus on drain and entrapment safety protocols.
  • Invest in swimming lessons for your child. The more comfortable and knowledgeable your child is with swimming and flotation, the safer they will be.

While we have touched on public pools and camps in this piece, these same considerations also apply in any setting where your child may be engaging in recreational water activities under the supervision of others, such as day care facilities or schools. Being alert to the risks and researching safety protocols ahead of time can be an extra layer of protection for your child.

If your family has been impacted by a lack of water care and safety, you are not alone. Contact us to discuss your legal options.

Personal Injury Attorneys

About The Author

A seasoned trial attorney, Attorney Wickenheiser has advocated for victims and their families injured because of medical malpractice, nursing home death, pharmaceutical liability, and product liability. She focuses her practice on representing those who have suffered catastrophic injury and has successfully negotiated numerous settlements, many over a million dollars. She has received many prestigious awards and recognitions. Attorney Wickenheiser is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.