Child Drowning Prevention and Safety – Top 10 Tips for Safer Holiday Swimming
Stay Safe These Holidays at Home and Away
Summer holidays are fast approaching– soon our children will have finished school for yet another year! For many of us, at least some of the Xmas school holiday period is spent away from home visiting relatives or catching up with family and friends, and of course enjoying some much needed relaxation amid the celebrations associated with this festive season. In many instances, this holiday period is spent near and around water.
However, a festive and fun summer holiday can turn to tragedy in an instant, and parents need to be mindful of the increased probability of childhood drowning when on vacation. The places visited by a family while on holiday are very often unfamiliar, and the excitement of the festive season may, in some cases, result in the dangers inherent in these places going unnoticed. Parents need to make themselves familiar with all of the aquatic environments – including rivers, lakes, dams, swimming pools and beaches – they are likely to encounter during the family vacation, and they should take the time to identify the potential hazards of each different location.
Top 10 Holiday Tips for Safer Home and Holiday Swimming:
Make it very clear to the child that they are not to enter the water (whether it be it a beach, river or other) without a parent present. Even though the child may be a competent swimmer in a pool environment, currents and other conditions can impact heavily on a swimmer’s capabilities.
If vacationing at a unit complex, holiday apartment or Caravan Park that has a pool, be mindful of the entry and exit points, and of the sturdiness of the pool fencing, or if it has fencing at all.
Be sure to take all necessary items with you – so you don’t have to return for forgotten items including towels, hats, sunscreen and water/snacks
At the beach, always swim between the flags. The flags are placed in the most suitable spot for swimmers, and life guards are on hand if assistance is needed. They can’t assist you if they can’t see you!
Keep in mind that life guards are neither babysitters nor a substitute for constant and active adult supervision. The same applies to older siblings – they should not be regarded as a replacement for adults as they are more likely to be distracted from the supervision task, and their decision-making capacity tends to be compromised in stressful situations.
The rapidly changing water conditions and temperatures of rivers, lakes or dams, as well as their currents, cloudy/murky water, slippery banks and submerged objects make swimming in such environments potentially hazardous. Never dive into water you can’t see into. Take it easy and slowly walk your way in.
Always heed and obey the warning signs! Warning signs provide valuable information about the conditions, and in the first instance must be observed by adults. Children mimic the actions of their parents, so it is vital that adults set a good example when in and around the water
Submerged objects aren’t the only hazards a swimmer might encounter in an aquatic environment. Depending on where you are, look out for surfboards, boogie boards, canoes, jet skis and boats when holidaying this summer. Our glorious summer weather brings out to play a myriad of different water enthusiasts, and it’s vital that we take appropriate care no matter what water activity we are participating in.
At a social gathering, don’t assume someone else is watching children! Many drowning tragedies have occurred as a result of an adult thinking someone else is looking after their child. Nominate a “pool watcher” and ensure they are aware of their responsibilities, and then rotate this role as required.
Just like drinking and driving – alcohol and water do not mix! Restrict your alcohol consumption around water – not only does it limit a person’s supervision and rescue capabilities, it contributes to approximately 20% of all adult drownings each year. Being in and around water is an integral part of the Aussie lifestyle, particularly over the Christmas summer period. I urge all parents to take the time to reflect carefully on the aquatic environment(s) their family may be exposed to these holidays. Doing so will help ensure a safer water experience for you and your children, and may even prevent a tragedy.
Rural Homes and Holidays
The idea of a rural setting conjures up tranquil images of the land, bush or countryside, and it may surprise some people to learn that drowning is the leading cause of death of children in such settings.
With increasing numbers of people visiting rural areas and enjoying farm-stays and the like, educating these visitors about the dangers of regional waterways is now more important than ever. While dams are the predominant location at which farm drownings occur, fatalities occur across a range of sites including rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, as well as irrigation channels and cattle troughs and dips. Prevention of drownings in rural locations requires special consideration of the surrounding environment, as well as special provisions to reduce the extensive range of drowning hazards and risk factors associated with such locations.
The provision of adequate barriers around water settings in rural areas is problematic, as it is neither feasible nor reasonable to fence and maintain vast perimeters surrounding large waterways and the like. However, just like our suburban swimming pools, the provision of barriers and the supervision of play can play an integral role in preventing drownings in a rural waterway or dam. Where it is impractical to build a barrier around a rural waterway or dam, the solution is to fence off the building and the part of the surrounding yard from which access to the waterway can be gained. This barrier can serve as a “safe play area” between the child and the “farm hazards”.
Instead of making it difficult to gain entry to a water area, the “safe play area” prevents the child from exiting without adult supervision. Like pool fencing, “safe play area” barriers require a child-resistant gate and latch, and they must be designed as a “climb-proof” construction, and of course they must be well maintained. All family members, farm workers and visitors to a property having a “safe play area” must be aware of the need to keep the area secure at all times (for example, to keep the gates closed).
Parents and carers should remain in constant supervision of their children in these play areas. While the distractions of a rural setting are many, a carer should never allow such distraction to interfere with the supervision of their child as this creates a potential window of opportunity for children to place themselves in danger. Unique water hazards that provide an unrecognised drowning risk to children exist on rural properties, and this risk must be either restricted or eliminated. Children may be drawn to objects containing water such as water tanks, wells and cattle troughs (which require meshing or secured lids), and unused cattle dips, post holes or ditches (which need to be filled in).
Living on a farm or holidaying in a rural community provides a unique and wonderful opportunity for a child to experience time away from the city and to grow and develop in an open and relaxed environment. Safety is paramount when around any body of water, and a secured area such as a “safe play area”, together with active adult supervision, can go a long way to assisting in the prevention of a child rural drowning tragedy.