Children's Health & Safety Association

Issue 43: July 2018

Sunday, 01 July 2018 13:23

Water Safety – for you and your family

Written by 

July 1, 2018 - On May 24, 2018, a 23-month-old toddler in Mission, British Columbia, was reported missing from a day care facility and found unresponsive in a swimming pool at a neighbouring property.

Drowning can happen to anyone and at anytime but infants and children are especially at risk.

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO), published a report on drowning, a topic that has never been targeted with a global prevention effort.

"I believe that you can’t manage what you don’t measure – and there’s never been a comprehensive effort to measure drowning around the world until now,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, three-term mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the report.

“The more evidence we can gather, the better we’ll be able to tailor our prevention efforts – and the Global report on drowning is a big step in the right direction,” Bloomberg added.

2017-2018 Global Drowning Statistics

  • There are approximately 40 drowning deaths every hour of every day.
  • Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
  • More than 360,000 people die each year from drowning.
  • Drowning is one of the top five causes of death for children from one to 14 years of age in 48 of the 85 countries studied.
  • In Australia, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury and death in children aged 1–3 years.
  • In Bangladesh, drowning accounts for 43% of all deaths in children aged 1–4 years.
  • In China, drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children aged 1–14 years.
  • In USA, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1–14 years.
  • Although the greatest percentage of drowning occurs in oceans, lakes and ponds, they also occur in swimming pools, wading pools, buckets and bathtubs.

The WHO has created an implementation guide for the prevention of drowning which includes a range of effective strategies that countries can take to prevent drowning:

  • the installation of barriers to control access
  • providing safe places such as day care centres for children
  • teaching children basic swimming skills, and
  • training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.

This guide also contains measures for national and local governments, which include:

  • the adoption of improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations
  • better flood risk management, and
  • comprehensive water safety policies.

Canada Drowning Statistics

Canada Drowning StatisticsAccording to Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada, the following statistics apply:

  • In Canada 2,322 children, youth and adults died in Canadian waters between 2010 and 2014. 311 drowning deaths occurred in 2015 and at least 297 occurred in 2016.
  • In 2010-2014, 100% of infant drowning deaths occurred in a bathtub. The highest incidence of bathtub drowning death once again occurred in Ontario (113), followed by Quebec (38), Alberta (28), and British Columbia (25); contributing to 14%, 9%, 14%, and 7% of each of these province’s total drowning deaths respectively.
  • Consistent with previous years, the majority of pool drowning fatalities occurred in private pools (89%). The highest incidence of private pool fatality occurred in Ontario (90) followed by Quebec (39), and British Columbia (14), contributing to 11%, 9%, and 4% of each of these province’s total drowning deaths respectively.
  • It is difficult to obtain detailed fence and gate information from backyard pool drowning cases. In instances where this information was available, 40% of the pools had no fencing or noncompliant fencing, and 77% had either no gate, or the gate was neither self-closing nor self-latching.
  • Private backyard with pool continues to be the primary setting where children 1-4 years of age most often drown (39%).
  • According to the 2014 statistics, children from 0 to 4 years of age drowned for the following prevalent reasons:
    • Alone near water (61%)
    • Supervision absent (58%)
    • Supervision present but distracted (36%)
    • With other minors only (22%)
  • According to the 2014 statistics, children from 5 to 14 years of age drowned for the following prevalent reasons:
    • Not wearing a PFD (flotation jacket) when relevant (56%)
    • Alone or with other minors only (50%)
  • In 2014, the number of unintentional water-related fatalities reported by the provincial and territorial Coroner and Medical Examiner’s offices was 428, the lowest in the last 25 years.

The long-term progress that has been made in reducing death by drowning in Canada is encouraging, but there are still an average of 464 preventable and unintentional water-related fatalities occurring each year, which reinforces the need for continued drowning prevention efforts. ~ excerpts regarding statistics from Life Saving Society. 

The Drowning Prevention Research Centre is the lead agency for drowning and water incident research in Canada. The Centre conducts research into fatal and non-fatal drowning, significant aquatic injury and rescue interventions.

Secondary or Dry Drowning

Secondary or Dry Drowning can occur when a tiny amount of water enters the lungs and causes an irritation.  As a result, fluid that is produced in the lungs can accumulate causing drowning up to 72 hours after the initial immersion in water.  Secondary Drowning or Dry Drowning is a term applied to victims, especially children, who are still breathing after they have been rescued.

According to a 2011 statistical report from the Canadian Red Cross, while approximately 10-15% of drowning victims have a secondary or dry drowning, most wet drowning victims have less than 4cc/kg of water found in their lungs.  For a 50-pound child, this amounts to less than 3 ounces.

When water enters the airways of a conscious victim, he/she will try to cough up the water or swallow it, thus inhaling more water involuntarily.  When water enters the airway, both conscious and unconscious victims experience laryngospasm (when the larynx or vocal cords in the throat constrict and seal the air tube) which prevents water from entering the lungs.  Because of laryngospasm, water enters the stomach in the initial phase of drowning and very little water enters the lungs.  Unfortunately, this can interfere with air entering the lungs too.

In most victims, the laryngospasm relaxes some time after unconsciousness and water then enters the lungs causing a "wet drowning."  About 10-15% of victims maintain this seal until cardiac arrest.  This is called "dry drowning’ - as no water enters the lungs. 

Water in the lungs indicates that the victim was still alive at the point of submersion.  Absence of water in the lungs may be either a dry drowning or is indicative a death before submersion.

If you would like to read more information on this subject, please click on Secondary or Dry Drownings, courtesy of the Canadian Red Cross.

Casualties who have suffered a near drowning must always be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, even if they appear to be fine. 

The following safety guidelines will help prevent the unthinkable from happening.

Very Important Safety Guidelines

Very Important Safety GuidelinesNever leave a child unattended in or near a pool - not even for a second.  There is absolutely no substitute for constant, adult supervision.  If you must leave the pool area, take your child with you.

Children under the age of three and children who cannot swim must wear a life jacket or PFD (personal flotation device).  Check the label to make sure the life jacket or PFD is approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Teach your children basic swimming and water safety skills.  The Lifesaving Society teaches school children three critical skills they need to survive a fall in deep water. 

  • How to roll into deep water - this simulates what it feels like to fall off a boat or off a dock.
  • How to tread water for one minute - this teaches children how to calm down and make a plan to reach safety.
  • How to swim for 50 metres and get to safety - most drownings occur close to shore or near the side of a pool.

Most people assume they would know if a child is drowning because the child would make a lot of noise either by yelling or frantically splashing in the water, but when a child is drowning, he/she often sinks into the water without making a noise.

Ensure children have adequate supervision near pools, hot tubs and spas.

A fence, wall or natural/artificial barrier should completely enclose your pool or spa area. 

GatesAll gates or doors leading from the house to the pool area should have a self-closing and self-latching mechanism that protects against unauthorized entry and use.  The inside latch should be high enough that children cannot reach it. 

If your pool, spa or hot tub is indoors, lock the door to the room or have a cover that locks, to keep children and other unauthorized users from entering this area.

Do not place objects like chairs or tables near the fence that a child could climb onto in order to enter the pool area.

A clear view of the pool or spa from the house should be maintained by removing all vegetation (flowers, plants, shrubs and trees) and/or other obstacles.

If you use a pool or spa cover, follow the manufacturer's directions for safe installation, use and maintenance. 

Always remove the cover completely before using your pool or spa, to avoid the possibility of anyone, especially a small child, from becoming trapped and drowning under the cover.

Decks of all kinds should be kept clean and clear of debris.

Decks should have a non-slip surface.

Only one person should be allowed on the diving board at a time.

Do not allow swimming under the diving board.

Make sure all electrical appliances and devices are protected with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).  Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, therefore electrical shock or electrocution can occur in a pool if live electrical current flowing through appliances and devices comes into contact with the water.

Provide adequate lighting in and around your pool at night so that the bottom of the swimming pool is clearly visible.

Stay out of the swimming pool during lightning and rain storms.

Do not leave toys and pool accessories in the pool when not in use, as they tend to attract young children.

Take a course on pool safety, first aid and lifesaving skills (such as CPR) with the Canadian Red Cross.

Drain any standing waterDrain any standing water from the surface of your pool or spa cover.  An infant or small child can drown in the smallest amount of water.  If you use any of the lightweight, floating pool covers, be especially alert for the potential for drowning accidents.  These covers should not be used as a safety measure and no one should ever crawl or walk on them.

Keep toys, particularly tricycles and other toys with wheels, away from the pool area.  A child playing with these toys and tricycles could accidentally fall into the water.

NEVER allow anyone of any age to swim alone.  Examples of good safety behaviour by adults are important to the safety and well-being of all children.

Use caution with inflatable toys and mattresses because they can malfunction and deflate.

To avoid entrapment, never use a pool if any of the grate outlets are missing or broken.

Review and follow all instructions for pool accessories, such as ladders, filters and drains.  These accessories can pose entrapment and entanglement hazards, which could result in a person becoming trapped underwater.  Do not allow children to play in or around these objects.

Do not permit playful screaming for 'help', which could mask a real emergency.

Establish sensible safety rules that include no horseplay or roughhousing.  Teach your children how to be safe in and around water.

Children should go down a slide feet first – not head first.

Keep lifesaving equipment next to the pool.  These items should remain stationary and never misplaced.

Poolside rescue equipmentPoolside rescue equipment including a ring buoy with an attached rope/line and /or a long handled hook should be available to assist in removing a child from the water.  This equipment should only be used for lifesaving measures and never for play.

Emergency procedures should be clearly written and posted in the pool or spa/hot tub area.  As well, a First Aid Kit should be nearby.

All glass and dishes near the vicinity of a pool or hot tub should be non-breakable.

Whenever possible and practical, have people shower with soap and water prior to swimming in your pool.  Perspiration and lotions will reduce the effectiveness of the pool disinfectant and lessen the ability of the filter to work efficiently.

Safety Barriers around Swimming Pools

Many municipalities require pool areas to be surrounded by fences.  Be sure that you meet the municipal requirements.  Ideally, fencing should be at least 6 feet high and completely surround the pool.  To meet Toronto by-laws, the fence does not include the house as part of the 4-sided fence enclosure.

Safety BarriersGates should be self-latching and self-closing ensuring that the gate is not left open accidentally.  Consider self-locking mechanisms.

Doors leading to the pool area should have an alarm system.  As an added precaution, you could add an underwater pool alarm that will sound when someone enters the water.  Make sure you can hear the alarm inside the house.

Block pool and hot tub access.  Use a rigid, motorized safety cover to block access to the pool when it's not in use.  Secure a cover for your hot tub as well.  Don't allow water to collect on top of the pool or hot tub cover.  Remove aboveground pool steps or ladders or lock them behind a fence when the pool is not in use.  ~, excerpt from www.redcross.ca, Water Safety

Additional Resources                          

Bathtub Safety

Boating Safety

Summer Safety

Sun Safety

Swimming Pool and Chemical Safety

Diving Safety

Emergency Procedures for Infants and Toddlers

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

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Children's Health and Safety Association's mission is to provide up-to-date health and safety information for every concerned parent.  We believe the most effective way of instilling positive change for children is through awareness and information programs.


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