Drowning: It can happen in seconds
Drowning is a leading cause of preventable injury and death in children under 10 in Canada. Sixty per cent of drownings occur in the four summer months from May to August, according to the Canadian Red Cross.
For parents and caregivers of children, part of the problem could be perceptual. In our popular imagination, drowning involves a protracted commotion: thrashing, gasping and cries for help. But when a drowning occurs in real life, it often happens swiftly and silently.
The difference between our ideas about drowning and the reality of it can give us a false sense of security.
Parents and caregivers can help to prevent drownings by taking a few basic precautions:
1. Actively supervise children when they are in or around water. For children under five and weak swimmers, active supervision means staying close — within arm’s reach. The Canadian Lifesaving Society recommends a supervision ratio of at least one adult for every baby, and one adult for every two small children. With older children, including good swimmers, it is still important to watch closely. Do not rely on a “buddy system” to keep kids safe, or make older children responsible for younger ones.
2. For extra protection, especially if you are watching more than one child, have children under five and weak swimmers wear life jackets when playing in and around water. While boating, always wear your own lifejacket and ensure children are outfitted with lifejackets that fit them properly.
3. Learn First Aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It doesn’t take long to get trained in these lifesaving skills. Many people have been saved from drowning by bystanders who knew how to properly administer First Aid and CPR.
4. Put your kids in swimming lessons. Although formal swimming lessons can’t “drown-proof” children, some studies show kids who receive swim training are less likely to drown. If your own swimming abilities could use some work, consider enrolling in adult learn-to-swim or swim improvement class. Some courses, like the Lifesaving Society’s Swim to Survive program, focus on water survival skills.
5. Fence it: if you have a backyard pool (including above-ground pool or temporary pool that will not be emptied after each use), or if you have a spa or hot tub, the best practice is to fence it off completely on all four sides. The fence should be at least four-feet high, with no gaps larger than four-inches. Access should be restricted by a latching, self-closing gate. It may be useful to keep in mind that chain link fences may be easier for children to scale than a fence made of vertical metal bars. Regardless of the fence style, four sided “isolation” fencing is more effective than three-sided “perimeter” fencing where the house is used as the fourth side.