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FOR RELEASE: May 16, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Summer Beckons; Water Safety Urged

Oklahomans begin to flock to lakes, rivers, pools, and any other place they can find to swim and boat on Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, the lure of water-related fun must be balanced with caution, responsibility, and the realization that water can quickly present a possibility of danger or harm to anyone.

Each year, an average of 120 residents of Oklahoma drown or nearly drown (and are hospitalized) while engaged in water activities. Knowing how to prevent the possibility of drowning, staying alert, and not taking chances in unknown situations can be the key to a wonderful summer.

May is Injury Prevention Month in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health encourages local communities to raise awareness of drowning and use preventive measures according to the situation. Drowning or near drowning (submersion injury) can be quick and silent or desperately frantic, noted State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “A person’s life can be at risk in as little as one inch to several feet of water or other liquid,” he said.

Oklahoma has high shoreline mileages from streams, lakes, and farm ponds. In 1998, Cardinal Aquatech Pools reported the state had more than 3,000 commercial and 9,000 residential swimming pools. Since 73 percent of people involved in submersion injury die, it is important to avoid getting into the situation. Two-thirds of adult Oklahomans sustain submersion injury in natural waters (lakes, rivers, creeks) and ponds, 20 percent in pools, and 7 percent in bathtubs.

For adults, the main risks for submersion injury include: poor swimming ability; playing or working close to water without considering possible immersion; swimming, boating, and fishing alone and not using life vests, preservers or save poles; risk-taking behavior made worse by alcohol use; entering and diving into unknown waters; and, not knowing how to save people (location of saving devices, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), etc.).

Dr. Beitsch said toddlers, 12 to 24 months of age, are at the highest risk of a drowning or near-drowning incident. Over half of the drownings or near-drownings among children less than 5 years of age occur in swimming pools; bathtubs, hot tubs, lakes, ponds, creeks, and rivers account for the majority of the remaining drownings.

“As children develop, they become more independent and begin making decisions in their lives,” Dr. Beitsch said. “However, when it comes to water-related activities, the desire for independence puts them at risk of drowning or near drowning. For children older than 5 years, as their world expands beyond the immediate home environment, they are at risk of drowning in lakes, ponds and pools. Children this age don’t want to be supervised and parents often think they are small adults. Yet the number of submersion incidents that result in drowning begins to increase with this age group.“

The most important precautions to follow when participating in water-related activities include:

  • Never swim or go boating alone.
  • Avoid flood and deep waters and currents.
  • Do not dive in unknown or shallow waters.
  • Do not overestimate swimming ability or strength.
  • Do not use canals, drains or ditches for swimming or other recreation.
  • Do not use alcohol when participating in water-related activities.

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