As parents/caregivers, the safety of the people in our care is always at the forefront.
Half of all drowning deaths and near-drowning incidents occur in swimming pools
A drowning death can happen right after someone is submerged in water or it can occur later. You can also survive a drowning event but experience serious long-term health effects.
When someone survives a drowning event but suffers injury, we refer to this as near drowning.
Just as an individual may sustain a permanent brain injury from a car, pedestrian, or bike crash, brain damage can and often does occur from near drowning, which can result in long-term impairment including, difficulty learning, remembering, planning, and paying attention.
Drowning can happen quickly and silently. Children most frequently drown in pools, bathtubs, and open bodies of water. Half of all drowning deaths and near-drowning incidents occur in swimming pools.
Canadian drowning statistics
- Children aged one to four are the most at risk in or near water. One to four year olds drown at twice the rate of children aged 10 to 14.
- Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional injury deaths among children one to four years of age, and the second leading cause of death for children under 10 years.
- 60 per cent of all drownings occur in just three months: June, July, and August.
- Children drown in private pools five times more frequently than they do in public pools.
- 98 per cent of parents with children younger than four cited water depth as a consideration in determining level of supervision. However, children can drown in just a few centimetres of water. Specifically, toddlers and young children often cannot regain their balance after stumbling in water, and water depths can vary suddenly along natural shorelines.
- Nearly four in 10 child drownings (37 per cent) occurred in water depth of one metre or less. More than 90 per cent of children who died in these conditions were not with a supervising adult.
- One in five Canadians say they would allow a child under six to play near the water without a lifejacket on, believing them to be safe so long as they are not swimming. In reality, four out of five (79 per cent) children this age who drowned entered the water unintentionally.
The relationship between child development and the risk of drowning
Child drowning and near drowning patterns are linked to physical and cognitive development.
Children under five years of age:
- Children under five are attracted to water, but lack a sense of danger and cannot understand the risk.
- Young children are top heavy and vulnerable to falling into the water.
- Toddlers and preschoolers can walk, but they cannot swim.
- Young children’s lungs are smaller than adults' and fill quickly with water.
- Young children can drown in as little as 5 cm (2.5 inches) of water.
- Most young children drown when they are walking or playing near the water, not when swimming or intending to swim.
Children five to 14 years of age:
- Older children are at risk because they may overestimate their own skills, underestimate the depth of the water or strength of the current, or act on a dare from a friend.
- Physical strength develops throughout childhood. Even a strong swimmer can get into trouble in the water.
Drowning deaths and injuries are predictable and preventable. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in drowning prevention. It’s important to be aware of the risk of drowning and take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of your child, teen and/or young adult.
Water safety and drowning prevention
Safe Kids Canada recommends following five layers of protection for drowning prevention. These include:
1. Active Supervision
Lack of supervision is a critical factor in many drownings and should be the number one priority for caregivers. Drowning happens quickly and quietly. In close to two-thirds of toddler drownings in Canada, the child was without adult supervision (46 per cent) or only with another child (17 per cent) when he or she fell into the water. Older siblings or friends cannot be relied on to safely supervise a younger child.
2. Training for adults
Individuals responsible for supervising children in, on and around the water should be trained in swimming and water safety, as well as being trained in First Aid and CPR. Parents must be prepared to deal with an emergency. This includes knowing how to call for help, how to swim, and how to perform First Aid and CPR. Contact your local municipality to find information on First Aid and CPR training in your community.
3. Create Barriers - Pool fencing
Almost half of all child drownings happen in backyard swimming pools. Pool fencing has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of drowning by young children. Research comparing the numbers of children who drowned in unfenced versus four-sided fenced pools suggests that fencing could prevent at least 70 per cent of drownings and near drownings among children in private swimming pools. Safe pool fencing is designed so that children cannot climb over or under it. Pool fencing should be at least 1.2 metres high (four feet) and have a self-closing, self-latching gate.
4. Lifejackets and PFDs
A lifejacket or PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is no substitute for adult supervision. These water safety measures are all strongly recommended by injury prevention experts, although there has not been enough research yet to quantify their effectiveness in preventing drowning. PDFs and lifejackets are designed to keep people afloat in water until they can be rescued, but they only work if people wear them. Lifejackets for young children are a type of passive prevention measure, increasing survival time for children in case they fall in the water during play or during a lapse in adult supervision. Make sure the lifejacket fits your child’s weight and fits snugly. There are no approved lifejackets for infants under 9kg (20 lbs.). A suitable flotation device should have these features:
- Large collar for head support
- Safety strap that goes between the legs to prevent the device from slipping over the child’s head
- Buckles on safety straps
- Reflective tape
You can find more information of PFDs and life jackets from Transport Canada.
5. Learning to swim
Evidence shows that swimming ability cannot by itself prevent drowning. More than half of the Canadians who drown in recreational boating incidents could swim. Safe Kids Canada recommends that by age five, children have the mental capacity to understand the concepts taught in swimming lessons, as well as the increased muscle development and coordination. Do not rely on swimming lessons alone to keep the child in your care safe.
Now that you’re equipped with knowledge and information about water safety, enjoy time with your loved ones at the pool and beach! These are great places to have fun and spend time with those we care for. Knowing how to stay safe will empower you and make you feel more comfortable around the water.
Want to read more articles about caring for children? Check out Encouraging Speech and Language Development in Children and 12 Tips to Help Teach Children Organizational Skills.