Keeping Kids Safe In and Around Water: An Interview with Jonathan Midgett from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission

Jonathan Midgett, Ph.D. is an engineering psychologist in the Division of Human Factors and the coordinator of the Children’s Hazards Team and the Drowning Prevention Team at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Midgett’s duties include making age determinations for toys and juvenile products, evaluating product hazards, and describing consumer behaviors associated with injuries to facilitate enforcement of federal safety regulations. He participates on 22 ASTM International juvenile product voluntary standards subcommittees. Educated in developmental psychology at the University of Virginia and the University of Guelph (in southern Ontario, Canada), his research interests have included perceptual psychology, cognitive development, family studies and education. He has taught university classes on infancy, early and middle childhood, research methods, and exceptional children and has published research in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Contemporary Educational Psychology, the Encyclopedia of Marriage and the Family, the Journal of Safety Research, and the Journal of Children’s Health.

Q. How prevalent are child water injuries and drownings?

A. Children drowning in bathtubs account for about two-thirds of drowning deaths in and around the home. And according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year there are about 260 swimming pool and spa drowning deaths of American children under the age of five – and an estimated 2,725 children younger than 5, are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for pool or spa submersion injuries, which may range from minor injuries to severe brain damage. Additionally, the suction of a pool or spa pump can drown bathers by entangling their hair or by holding their bodies against the drain if the drain cover is mission, broken or not properly designed.

Q. Are some children more at risk for submersion injury or drowning?

A. Toddlers appear to be most at risk of submersion injury or drowning. In a comprehensive study of swimming pool drowning and submersion incidents involving children, the CPSC found that 75 percent of the victims were between one and three years of age. Sixty-five percent of this group were boys.

Q. What are the common misperceptions about child submersion injuries and drowning?

A. The misperceptions about these types of tragedies often have to do with expectations about how and where a child water accident happens. The truth is, drowning deaths of children often happen quickly and very quietly. A child can drown in the time it takes to answer a phone, and 77 percent of the victims in CPSC’s study had been missing from sight for five minutes or less when the incident occurred. Rarely does loud splashing alert adults to a submersion accident. Drownings and submersion injuries can occur in any number of settings where even small amounts of water are present – including swimming pools, hot tubs, kiddie pools, natural bodies of water, bathtubs and even toilets. CPSC studies indicate that drowning and submersion incidents tend to happen in familiar surroundings, such as at the child’s own home or the home of a relative or friend.

Q. How can adults prevent child injuries and deaths in pools and hot tubs

A. To protect children, the CPSC urges parents, caregivers, pool and hot tub owners to use layers of protection. Including:

  • Placing barriers completely around swimming pools and spas.
  • Closely supervising children at all times.
  • Being prepared in case of an emergency.

Q. What kinds of barriers should be used around pools and spas?

A. According to the CPSC, fences and walls should be at least four-feet high and installed completely around the pool or spa. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching, and the latch should be out of the reach of young children. If a house or other structure forms one side of the barrier, doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with alarms that sound when doors are unexpectedly opened. Another option is to use a power safety cover, a motor-powered barrier placed over the water area, to prevent access by children. For above-ground pools, steps and ladders to the pool should be removed or secured when the pool is not in supervised use.

Q. How can adults prevent injuries from pool or spa drains?

A. CPSC suggests that adults check the age and condition of drain covers. Be sure that a newer, anti-entrapment drain cover is installed, and never use a pool or spa with a missing or broken drain cover. While old drain covers are flat, the newer covers are usually dome-shaped. Also consider installing a Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS), a device that will automatically shut off a pump if a blockage is detected. A professional should regularly inspect pools and spas for entrapment or entanglement hazards, and can plainly mark the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump. If someone becomes entrapped against a drain, cut off the pump immediately – and instead of trying to pull the individual away from the powerful suction, pry a hand between the drain and the individual’s body to break the seal.

Q. How can adults prevent submersion injuries or drownings in bathtubs and toilets?

A. The majority of bathtub deaths occur when the caregiver is not present, so it’s important to always keep a young child in arm’s reach while bathing. Adults should never leave a baby or toddler in the care of another child, even for a moment. It’s also important to make sure the tub drains completely – and that a washcloth or toy does not block the drain, keeping even a small amount of water in the tub. And remember that a baby bath seat is not a safety device and not a substitute for close supervision. Toilet drowning deaths typically involve a child under the age of three falling headfirst into the water. Toilet locks can be used to stop young children from opening the lid, and bathroom doors may be latched to keep toddlers out.

Q. How can adults be prepared in case of a submersion emergency?

A. If a child is missing, always look first in the pool or spa. Seconds count! Keep rescue equipment and a telephone next to the pool or spa, and learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In a submersion injury, survival depends on rescuing a child quickly and restarting the breathing process, even if the child is still in the water. Seconds count in preventing death or brain damage.

Q. What can HMHB’s partners and friends do to increase child safety in and around water?

A. Familiarize yourself with the most current water safety information and resources available, and share their message with your colleagues, as well as with the parents and caregivers you serve. In conjunction with its 2007 drowning prevention campaign, CPSC has produced a public service announcement illustrating what happens when a young child falls into a pool or hot tub, vividly demonstrating what you expect to hear and what the reality often sounds like. To download the text, video and audio of this PSA, available in both English and Spanish, go to Also, CPSC recently updated its “Guidelines for Entrapment Hazards: Making Pools and Spas Safer,” available at Additional publications available at no cost online include “How to Plan for the Unpexpected: Preventing Child Drownings” at and “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Pools” at

For more information, go to

*This material was prepared by CPSC staff and has not been reviewed or approved y and may not necessarily represent the views of the commission.

*Because this material was prepared by Dr. Midgett in his official capacity, it may not be copyrighted and is in the public domain and my be freely copied or otherwise reprinted.