Measures are needed to reduce Hawaii's drownings
Hawaii has the second-highest rate of resident drowning in the country.
A HEALTH advisory committee recommended last year that the state take action to reduce Hawaii's drowning rate, now considered to be the nation's highest when nonresidents are included. Next year's Legislature should consider the recommendations, which include rating beaches by risk and preventing children from wandering into residential swimming pools.
Drowning is the nation's second leading cause of death, behind vehicular accidents, among children 1 to 14. Among children under 5, drowning accidents, mostly in swimming pools, are the leading cause of injury and death. In Hawaii and nine other states, drowning is the leading cause of death among children 14 and younger.
An average of 30 Hawaii residents drown each year, which is the second-highest rate in the country. Hawaii averages 2.4 resident drownings a year per 100,000 population, twice the national rate. If nonresidents were included in the tabulation, Hawaii's rate would double, probably making it the nation's riskiest for drowning.
The state Department of Health set a goal a year ago to cut the state's annual drowning rate by more than half, to less than one resident per 100,000, by 2010. The department's Injury Prevention Plan made four recommendations:
» Require four-sided isolation fencing for residential pools to isolate them from the house or yard. The American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar recommendation three years ago, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission describes on its Web site how to build it. The fence should be at least four feet high so a small child cannot climb over it, and the only access to the pool should be by gate with a self-closing latch on the pool side.
» Conduct an educational campaign targeted at residential pool owners to promote safety.
» Evaluate existing programs for effectiveness, with the Hanauma Bay safety video at the top of the list for scrutiny.
» Develop a beach ratings system, similar to ratings of ski slopes, to be used in determining where to assign lifeguards. Lifeguards now watch over 19 beaches on Oahu; the overwhelming majority of ocean drownings occur at unguarded locations.
The state Department of Education has developed a 10-hour curriculum for teaching children the basic skills and information about water safety. Ideally, all children should be taught how to swim in this island state's public schools. A city study found that 70 percent of Honolulu's 6,000 children ages 7-14 could not swim 50 yards.
"Swimming skills tend to be viewed solely as recreational skills," Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association, told HealthDay. "Unlike learning to play football or soccer, however, swimming is a personal safety skill. No one has died from an inability to play football, for example, but many have died from an inability to swim."