Bayley, 9, and Marcus, 10, kick off 2007 Safe Kids Week "Splash into Safety" campaign in front of 198 bathing suits, representing the number of children who drown or nearly drown each year in Canada. (CNW Group/Safe Kids Canada)
Tips to avoid drowning
Last Updated May 30, 2007
Canada is a land of oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, backyard pools and those handy-dandy, innocuous-looking plastic inflatables that can be blown up in a few minutes with a bicycle pump and can drown a child in a few silent seconds.
One of the most common misconceptions about drowning is that it involves much splashing, thrashing and screaming, when in fact most drownings are silent and can happen in a bathtub, a bucket, even a toilet. A toddler can drown in a puddle.
Safe Kids Week runs until Sunday, June 3. It is an injury-prevention arm of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children that began 11 years ago and provides tips on water safety and how to prevent drowning, especially for children under 15.
A Canadian Red Cross report last year on drownings in Canada in the 1990s opens with a dedication "to the 5,900 people in Canada during 1991-2000 who died from a water-related injury, and to the 3,526 who survived a hospitalization for near drowning." The report says an average of 73 children under the age of 15 drowned each year in Canada during the 1990s.
Drowning is the second most common cause of injury-related death for Canadian children 14 and under, according to Safe Kids Canada – and nearly half of all drownings and near-drownings happen in home swimming pools.
By the numbers
More Safe Kids Canada statistics:
- 140 children in Canada are hospitalized each year because of a near-drowning incident, which can cause brain damage.
- 34 per cent of Canadian parents believe they would hear splashing, crying or screaming from a drowning child.
- 37 per cent of drownings and near-drownings happen in streams, lakes and ponds.
- 13 per cent of drownings and near-drownings happen in bathtubs.
- Quebec and Ontario lead the country in backyard pool drownings – 47 per cent for Quebec, 37 per cent in Ontario.
- Children under five are twice as likely to drown as older children because of poor balance and top-heavy bodies.
- 42 per cent of children between five and 14 who drowned in the past 10 years did not have an adult watching them.
What to do
Safe Kids Canada recommends that backyard pools, both inground and inflatable types, be contained by fencing at least 1.2 metres high with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Eliminating unsupervised access to such pools prevents seven of 10 drownings of children under five.
Supervision must be constant and vigilant. For very young children in or near water, the "within arm's reach" rule should apply. If they're further away than that, they're too far. Most drownings in home swimming pools do not occur while the child is swimming. They occur when he or she is playing near the water and falls in.
Supervision of a swimming child is a full-time job, not to be combined with reading, gossiping, chatting on the phone, tending the barbecue, eating or looking after children who are not in the water.
On boats, the Canadian Red Cross recommends that each person wear a personal flotation device. Even the best swimmers can drown if they're knocked out by a swinging boom on a sailboat, or lose their grip on an overturned boat.
A Safe Kids Canada poll determined that most parents have a lax view of what supervision means when looking out for children in or near pools or open bodies of water.
Merely 39 per cent of parents believe adequate supervision means staying within sight and reach of a child, the poll showed. Another 21 per cent said a visual check every five minutes is sufficient, while 11 per cent said checking every 10 minutes is enough.
No one is spared the grief of losing a child to a drowning accident.
Former world figure skating champion Barb Underhill lost her eight-month-old daughter Stephanie in a backyard pool tragedy in 1993. As a result of the tragedy, Underhill started a charity in her daughter's name called the Stephanie Gaetz Keepsafe Foundation, which is devoted to reducing similar water tragedies.
"The one day we left the gate unlocked our worst nightmare came true," she said.
Layers of protection
Safe Kids Canada offers the following "layers of protection" for parents:
- Stay within sight and reach of children near water.
- Use lifejackets with small children and weak swimmers in or near water.
- Take swimming lessons and learn first aid and CPR.
- Enroll children in swimming lessons, but don't rely on them to keep your kids safe.
Use fences around a pool, with self-closing, self-latching gates.
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