08/04/2010 12:45 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Teachable Moment: Take Simple Steps Now to Prevent Child Drownings

While summer should be a time of fun and relaxation, it has sadly brought tragedy to far too many families. Within the past three weeks, two sets of twin girls drowned in residential swimming pools in the Boston area.

This week, six teenagers drowned in the Red River in Shreveport, La., trying to save each other. Unfortunately, none of the teenagers knew how to swim. Nor did the adults around them who watched in horror as they drowned.

These tragedies are just a sampling of the children who have drowned this summer. They remind us all that safety must be our top priority when we're near the water.

As the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, I have been urging parents and children to follow simple water safety steps to protect themselves and their loved ones in and around pools and spas. This summer, we launched Pool Safely, a national public education campaign to reduce child drownings, near drownings and drain entrapments. Other organizations, such as the American Red Cross and U.S. Coast Guard issue numerous warnings and teach safe behavior in and around open water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) drowning is the leading cause of death for children under five - and it is preventable. CPSC data indicates that each year, on average, nearly 300 children younger than five drown in swimming pools and spas and 3,200 children that age go to hospital emergency rooms due to submersion injuries. Some are disabled for life as a result of their injuries.

Not knowing how to swim is a problem particularly in minority communities. According to the CDC in research conducted from 2000 to 2007, African-American children are three times more likely to drown than white children. Furthermore, a study by USA Swimming found that 58 percent of African American children don't know how to swim.

Water safety steps are simple: Make sure everyone in your family learns to swim. Stay close to, and constantly watch, children in and around water. Keep young children and children who can't swim within reach. Learn CPR. Install a fence at least 4 feet high around your pool or spa and install new, safer drain covers in your pool and spa. Each parent should know that simple steps save lives.

CPSC's new educational video (available in English and Spanish) is on YouTube. Watch it, share it, and Pool Safely.