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    U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (left) was joined by swimming champion Janet Evans for the unveiling of the nationwide education campaign linked to the VGB Act.

A pair of U.S. Olympic medalists helped kick off the national campaign aimed at promoting pool and spa safety.

Launched May 24 at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the sweeping educational effort, ushered in by swimming champions Janet Evans and Jason Lezak, is a major component of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which took effect December 2008.

The campaign is being spearheaded by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in conjunction with nearly two-dozen participating organizations, including the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and PR partner Widmeyer Communications.

“This will be effective because it is such a broad campaign, not just a short-term effort by one or two groups,” said Kathleen Reilly,  CSPC’s public affairs specialist. “It’s nationwide, and nearly every organization involved in pool and spa safety will be taking part.” 

Joining the Olympic athletes for the official launch were Nancy Baker, whose daughter was the inspiration for the law, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who authored the act and sponsored it in the House of Representatives. The announcement also coincided with CPSC’s release of its annual reports on children’s entrapment and submersion incidents.  

Developed through research conducted by Widmeyer over the past few months, the educational campaign will carry the tagline “Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives.” It will combine traditional means of distributing information — print, TV, radio spots and PSAs — with Internet-based social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

In fact, a Twitter account has been up and running since early May. Located at http://twitter.com/poolsafely, the page streams messages such as, “Approx. 70% of child drownings occur even though 1 or both parents are nearby. Pool Safely” and “Installing safety drain covers and equipment helps prevent entrapments and drownings.”

At its heart, the initiative promotes adding extra safety measures in and around pools and spas, including barriers, swim lessons for children, knowledge of CPR, and equipment such as drain covers and alarms.

Though data is still being collected, CPSC reported no deaths from suction entrapments in 2009; however, there were eight entrapment incidents, with all but one resulting in injury. By comparison, the years 2007 and 2008 saw two fatal entrapments each, but no entrapment fatalities were reported for 2005 or 2006. All told, CPSC counted 94 entrapments from 1999-2009, 12 of which were fatal.  

Those most likely to be injured or killed in an entrapment were under the age of 15, the report found. Of those, the largest percentage of victims (38 percent) fell between the ages of 5 and 9. The agency also concluded that more than three-quarters of serious injuries and deaths related to drowning and near-drownings occurred with children under 5 years old.