Water Safety – for you and your family

children wearing flotation devices while their father watches near the pool ledge

Last July, a four-year-old boy drowned in a swimming pool during a large family gathering in Laval, Quebec.  Two concurrent circumstances caused this most unfortunate event.  The boy was without adult supervision and the pool did not have a surrounding fence.

Drowning can happen to anyone and at anytime – but infants and children are especially at risk.

children wearing flotation devices while their father watches near the pool ledge

The World Health Organization published a report on drowning, a topic that has never been targeted with a global prevention effort.

"I believe that you can’t manage what you don’t measure – and there’s never been a comprehensive effort to measure drowning around the world until now,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, three-term mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the report.

“The more evidence we can gather, the better we’ll be able to tailor our prevention efforts – and the Global report on drowning is a big step in the right direction,” Bloomberg added.

2018 – 2019 Global Drowning Statistics

  • Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
  • While an estimated 320,000 people die each year from drowning, this number may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning.
  • Although the greatest percentage of drowning occurs in oceans, lakes and ponds, they also occur in swimming pools, wading pools, buckets and bathtubs.

Canadian Statistics

infant sitting in water
  • According to the Government of Canada, the majority of drownings (57%) occurred in swimming pools in both residential and public settings. 49% of the cases involved children and infants aged 4 years or younger.
  • 94% of 15 to 19 year-old teenagers who drowned were not wearing lifejackets.
  • The Canadian Red Cross states that approximately 520 people die needlessly each year in unintentional water-related fatalities.
  • 125 drowning-related cases occurred in bathtubs, of which 80% involved children aged one year or younger.

What is Secondary or Dry Drowning?

Secondary or Dry Drowning can occur when a tiny amount of water enters the lungs and causes an irritation.  As a result, fluid produced in the lungs can accumulate causing drowning up to 72 hours after the initial immersion in water.  Secondary Drowning or Dry Drowning is a term applied to victims, especially children, who are breathing after they have been rescued.

According to a 2011 statistical report from the Canadian Red Cross, while approximately 10-15% of drowning victims have a secondary or dry drowning, most wet drowning victims have less than 4cc/kg of water found in their lungs.  For a 50-pound child, this amounts to less than 3 ounces.

When water enters the airways of a conscious victim, he/she will try to cough up the water or swallow it, thus inhaling more water involuntarily.  When water enters the airway, both conscious and unconscious victims experience laryngospasm (when the larynx or vocal cords in the throat constrict and seal the air tube) which prevents water from entering the lungs.  Because of laryngospasm, water enters the stomach in the initial phase of drowning and very little water enters the lungs.  Unfortunately, this can interfere with air entering the lungs too.

animation of person in water needing help

In most victims, the laryngospasm relaxes some time after unconsciousness and water then enters the lungs causing a "wet drowning."  About 10-15% of victims maintain this seal until cardiac arrest.  This is called "dry drowning’ - as no water enters the lungs. 

Water in the lungs indicates that the victim was still alive at the point of submersion.  Absence of water in the lungs may be either a dry drowning or is indicative a death before submersion.

Casualties who have suffered a near drowning must always be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, even if they appear to be fine. 

The following safety guidelines will help prevent the unthinkable

young girl near the water shore carrying a pail

Never leave a child unattended in or near water - not even for a second. There is absolutely no substitute for constant, adult supervision.  If you must leave the water area, take your child with you.

Children under the age of three and children who cannot swim must wear a life jacket or PFD (personal flotation device). Check the label to make sure the life jacket or PFD is approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Teach your children basic swimming and water safety skills. The Canadian Red Cross provides swimming lessons and injury prevention for children, youth and adults!  The ‘Red Cross Swim’ teaches all five swimming strokes, and promotes fitness, endurance and lifelong skills.  Learn to swim and see where Red Cross Swim can take you or your family!

Most people assume they would know if a child is drowning because the child would make a lot of noise either by yelling or frantically splashing in the water. A drowning child often sinks into the water without making a noise.

A fence, wall or natural/artificial barrier should completely enclose your pool or spa area.

All gates or doors leading from the house to the pool area should have a self-closing and self-latching mechanism that protects against unauthorized entry and use. The inside latch should be high enough that children cannot reach it.

If your pool, spa or hot tub is indoors, lock the door to the room or have a cover that locks, to keep children and other unauthorized users from entering this area.

backyard with swimming pool

Do not place chairs or tables near the fence.  A child could climb onto these objects and enter the pool area.

A clear view of the pool or spa from the house should be maintained by removing all vegetation (flowers, plants, shrubs and trees) and/or other obstacles.

If you use a pool or spa cover, follow the manufacturer's directions for safe installation, use and maintenance.

Always remove the cover completely before using your pool or spa, to avoid the possibility of anyone, especially a small child, from becoming trapped and drowning under the cover.

Decks of all kinds should be kept clean and clear of debris.

Decks should have a non-slip surface.

animation of girl diving in water

Only one person should be allowed on the diving board at a time.

Do not allow swimming under the diving board.

Make sure all electrical appliances and devices are protected with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, therefore electrical shock or electrocution can occur in a pool if live electrical current flowing through appliances and devices comes into contact with the water.

Provide adequate lighting in and around your pool at night so that the bottom of the swimming pool is clearly visible.

Stay out of the swimming pool during lightning and rainstorms

Do not leave toys and pool accessories in the pool when not in use, as they tend to attract young children.

Take a course on pool safety, first aid and CPR with the Canadian Red Cross.

Drain any standing water from the surface of your pool or spa cover. An infant or small child can drown in the smallest amount of water.  If you use any of the lightweight, floating pool covers, be especially alert for the potential for drowning accidents.  These covers should not be used as a safety measure and no one should ever crawl or walk on them.

swimming pool and patio area

Keep toys, particularly tricycles and other toys with wheels, away from the pool area. A child playing with these toys and tricycles could accidentally fall into the water.

NEVER allow anyone of any age to swim alone. Safety measures and guidelines are important to the well-being of all children.

Use caution with inflatable toys and mattresses because they can malfunction and deflate.

To avoid entrapment, never use a pool if any of the grate outlets are missing or broken.

Review and follow all instructions for pool accessories, such as ladders, filters and drains. These accessories can pose entanglement hazards, which could result in a person becoming bound underwater.  Do not allow children to play in or around these objects.

Do not permit playful screaming for 'help', which could mask a real emergency.

two young girls playing in a water pool with slide in the background

Establish sensible safety rules that include no horseplay or roughhousing. Teach your children how to be safe in and around water.

Children should go down a slide feet first – not head first.

Keep lifesaving equipment next to the pool. These items should remain stationary and never misplaced.

Poolside rescue equipment including a ring buoy with an attached rope/line and /or a long handled hook should be available to assist in removing a child from the water. This equipment should only be used for lifesaving measures and never for play.

Emergency procedures should be clearly written and posted in the pool or spa/hot tub area. As well, a First Aid Kit should be nearby.

All glass and dishes near the vicinity of a pool or hot tub should be non-breakable.

Whenever possible and practical, have people shower with soap and water prior to swimming in your pool. Perspiration and lotions will reduce the effectiveness of the pool disinfectant and lessen the ability of the filter to work efficiently.

Safety Barriers around Swimming Pools

backyard swimming pool and surrounding area

Many municipalities require pool areas to be surrounded by fences.  Be sure that you meet the municipal requirements.  Ideally, fencing should be at least 6 feet high and completely surround the pool.  To meet Toronto by-laws, the fence does not include the house as part of the 4-sided fence enclosure.

Gates should be self-latching and self-closing ensuring that the gate is not left open accidentally.  Consider self-locking mechanisms.

Doors leading to the pool area should have an alarm system.  As an added precaution, you could add an underwater pool alarm that will sound when someone enters the water.  Make sure you can hear the alarm inside the house.

Block pool and hot tub access.  Use a rigid, motorized safety cover to block access to the pool when it's not in use.  Secure a cover for your hot tub as well.  Don't allow water to collect on top of the pool or hot tub cover.  Remove 'above ground' pool steps or ladders or lock them behind a fence when the pool is not in use.

young boy having fun in the water
two young girls swimming in water wearing flotation devices and sunglasses

Now that you are aware of all the water safety precautions and measures, get outside and enjoy these marvellous, sunny summer days with your family. 

Be happy! Stay wise!

Additional Resources

For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

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