what are layers of protection

Drowning has been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/ immersion in liquid.” The outcome of a drowning incident can be classified as “death,” “morbidity,” and “no morbidity”. The more common terms used in discussions are “fatal” or “nonfatal” drownings.

According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children 1-4 years, the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children 1-14 years, and is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for all ages in the United States. Water-related injuries also affect a significant number of American children. An estimated twenty percent of drowning victims suffer severe, permanent neurological disability.

Drowning is, however, preventable and the NDPA recognizes that multiple strategies are necessary in order to do so. The term “layers of protection” is one used to classify the majority of strategies directly affecting aquatic environments. Parents, caregivers, residential pool owners, aquatic facility owners, managers and operators should use “layers of protection” to provide a system of increased security to prevent unauthorized access to bodies of water, especially important for children. This means that multiple strategies or devices are used constantly and simultaneously.

“Layers of protection” include:

Supervision

Parents, adults and caregivers must actively supervise children at all times when in or near the water and be fully aware of potential dangers in all environments, such as when visiting other homes, while on vacation, or at public/community pools.

Always designate a water watcher to actively supervise children when in or near water.

Unfortunately, many drowning incidents have occurred when people are solely engaged in swimming or other water play, and adults know children are in the water and those adults are nearby.

Active supervision is the first and most important layer of protection needed to prevent drowning accidents. Always assign a water watcher when kids are in the water who will watch them at all times without any distractions.

Physical Layers

Fences are the first physical line of defense that restrict access to the pool.

Physical layers may also be considered as barriers and constitute the first line of physical defense that restrict unauthorized access to the pool or spa area in its entirety or prevent unauthorized access to the water in the pool or spa.

Bear in mind that barriers are not child proof, but they do provide layers of protection for a child when there is a lapse in adult supervision. Barriers give parents additional time to find a child before the unexpected can occur. (USCPSC).

Physical layers that limit access to the pool or spa area:

  • Fences, 
  • Gates 
  • Latches 
  • House doors 
Pool safety cover
Pool safety cover

Physical layers that restrict access to the water include:

  • Pool and spa safety covers (power-operated, semi-automatic or manual)
  • Pool safety nets
  • Winter safety covers

Learn to Swim

Swimming lessons should be considered an additional layer of protection needed to prevent drowning accidents. Surviving in the water becomes increasingly difficult without this life-saving skill. According to the CDC, formal swimming lessons can reduce the chances of drowning by 88 percent.

Image: Northern Beaches Council

When selecting a swimming class for your child, ensure it includes water safety and survival education at the appropriate developmental level.

Other than the layers listed above, there are additional layers needed in case an emergency should occur that include learning CPR, first aid and rescue knowledge.

Alarms

Alarms are an important addition to creating a safer environment. 

They can be added to windows, doors, gates and the pool to alert an adult when a barrier has been breached. While the primary goal of layers of protection is to prevent unauthorized access to the water, alarms are important to alert adults if access to the water has been made.  

Alarms can be your last line of defense and allow adults to respond to an emergency quicker.

Active adult supervision and pool barriers are two key layers of protection against child drowning and must always be present, but be aware that not even the most diligent parent or caregiver can actively supervise a child 24/7. Barriers can be breached which is why the NDPA urges using multiple strategies and devices simultaneously to help prevent injuries and deaths from drowning. 

Each additional layer or strategy beyond the first could be the one that saves a life so be sure to use as many as possible at all times.

For more detailed information, read our complete position paper here.