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Keep Your Head Above Water

May 1, 2009 | Campaigns, Home & Community Safety, National Summer Safety Week

On average over 400 Canadians drown each year, reports the Lifesaving Society – Canada ’s lifeguarding experts. In 2004, Ontario alone had 132 drowning fatalities. Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death for children under 10 years of age, while children under the age of five are most at risk. Every year about 58 children die from drowning – this is equal to about two classrooms full, reports Safe Kids Canada.

The most recent statistics, from the Lifesaving Society, indicate that water-related deaths in 2004 decreased by 22 per cent from the previous five years, and were down even more sharply, at 31 per cent, from 10 years ago. Although fatalities are decreasing each year, drowning still remains a big problem in Canada

May 1st   – 7th is National Summer Safety Week. Canada Safety Council encourages you to take precautions while around water this summer. Whether you are in your backyard, at a local pool, or on the lake, be vigilant and make sure that children are always supervised by an adult

“It only takes seconds for a child to drown, and it is often silent,” says Barbara Byers, Public Education Director with the Lifesaving Society. We urge parents and caregivers to stay within arms reach of children at all times and to restrict access to the water until they are with their child. Children can drown in just a few centimetres of water – bathtubs, wading pools, and even buckets can be dangerous for a child left unattended. Distractions such as the phone ringing, the doorbell or another child, can sway your attention for just a moment. Byers recommends staying within arms’ reach of a child, otherwise you have gone too far.

Drowning can be immediately fatal or can occur later, but near-drowning can result in long-term health effects. It can affect the way a child thinks, learns, and plays. “For every child that drowned in 2002–2003, there were six to 10 more who almost drowned and required hospitalization,” says Margaret Keresteci, former Manager of Clinical Registries at Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). “When you take into account that one in four children in Ontario who experience near-drowning sustain permanent brain damage, you start to get an idea of how vital it is to make water safety a priority.”

It is important to remember that almost half of all child drownings occur in swimming pools. The majority of toddlers who drown, drown in backyard pools. Their natural curiosity combined with an attraction to water means that they have high risk of drowning anytime they are near water. Children can drown quickly and quietly. They can fall into the water when a parent or caregiver is not watching them.

The overwhelming majority of drownings among toddlers do not actually involve people swimming. In fact, 92 per cent of toddlers involved in a drowning incident were playing or walking near water when drowning or near-drowning occurred. Lifesaving Society suggests either fencing off the hazard, or fence in the child. Be vigilant. Many children who drown do so because parents or caregivers lose sight of them for a short period of time.

“The number one thing is supervision. There’s nothing that replaces that,” said Jack Smith, president of Canada Safety Council. “The drownings that happen in backyard pools with kids, virtually all of them are preventable by adult supervision. If the phone rings, take kids inside with you.” Make sure that children don’t have easy access to a backyard pool. Smith also suggests for parents not to rely on flotation devices or water wings. “What if they deflate or happen to come off?” Smith said. “We don’t really recommend those. The answer is to prevent it in the first place and not rely on something after the fact.”

“It is possible to reduce the number of water-related injuries, including drowning and near drowning,” says Barbara Underhill , co-founder of The Stephanie Gaetz KEEPSAFE Foundation. Underhill’s eight-month-old daughter drowned in a backyard pool 12 years ago. She has since been the founding sponsor of the Lifesaving Society’s Swim to Survive Program. “As children move beyond the toddler stage, learning to swim is a necessary life skill. We teach our children bike safety and road safety, but we also need to equip them with the swimming ability necessary for survival.”

Informational pamphlets, posters and DVD, produced by the Lifesaving Society, are available upon request to the Lifesaving Society.

Important Safety Tips to Follow:

  • Stay within sight and reach of your child when in, on or around water.
  • Know how to swim or have an experienced adult swimmer supervise children in the pool
  • Learn First Aid and CPR.
  • Know how to call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Install a 1.5 m (5 ft.) high four-sided fence with a self-closing, high-mounted, self-latching gate around the pool.
  • Put young children and weak swimmers in properly fitted lifejackets, when in, on or around water.
  • Teach your children the pool rules.
  • Keep safety equipment by the pool.
  • Put your children in swimming lessons.

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For more information, please contact:

Valerie Powell
Coordinatrice des médias et des communications
Conseil canadien de la sécurité
(613) 739-1535 (poste 228)

Barbara Byers
Directeur d’éducation publique
Société de sauvetage
(416) 490-8844

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