Tips to prevent childhood drowning

4 October 2016

The recent Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning report shows 32 children aged 0-14 drowned across Australia between July 2015 and June 2016. Here in WA there were 3 drowning deaths in children aged 0-4, and none in the 5-14 age bracket. Although this is an encouraging improvement in drowning statistics even one drowning death is one too many!

There are a number of factors that may contribute to the drowning deaths of children; some that relate to parents and carers, some to the environment and some to the children themselves. Understanding these factors that may contribute will aid in increasing awareness and educating the community on drowning risks.  

Factors related to parents and carers

  • Absence or lack of supervision, even for what is thought to be short periods, is one of the main factors in the drowning incidents of children.
  • Vulnerable periods during the day when parents and carers are juggling numerous children, activities and household chores can lead to distraction.
  • Underestimating a young child’s capacity to gain access into areas where water is available.
  • False sense of security – “my child is having swimming lessons”, “I don’t have a backyard pool”, or “my pool is fenced”.
  • Not used to having children around all the time, so safety measures may not always be in place or are forgotten.
  • Lack of knowledge of CPR or what to do in an emergency.

Factors related to the environment

  • An absence of a safety barrier is a common cause of drowning deaths in young children. Unfenced pools, propped open gates and open play areas near sources of water, all provide unrestricted access.
  • Ineffective fences or gates are a key factor in drowning deaths. This may include fences that are not up to Australian Standards, meet Legislation, or are not maintained. Gates must be self-closing and self-latching and not propped open.
  • Leaving water toys in and around pools can be tempting to young children.
  • Climbable objects such as pot plants, table and chairs and tree branches can all provide a way for children to access water.
  • Steep or slippery edges in inland waterways such as dams, lakes or rivers can result in unplanned entries and make exiting the water difficult.
  • Cold water temperatures can cause children to panic and make movement in water difficult.

Factors related to children

  • Children have limited strength and physical coordination so may tire easily, be unable to exit the water or get themselves to a point of safety.
  • Young children do not have a concrete understanding of danger or the ability to make sound judgements about safety.
  • Children are attracted to water and have a wonderful sense of curiosity that can lead to dangerous situations.
  • Children like to test their boundaries and may disobey instructions.
  • Even children who have some swimming ability may panic or simply ‘forget’ their swimming skills when they have unexpectedly fallen into water or are out of their comfort zone.
  • Young children, namely toddlers, have disproportionate body structure in that they are ‘top heavy’ (with larger heads in comparison to the rest of their body).
  • This makes it difficult to right themselves if they have fallen into the water.
  • Drowning is often a silent event due to submersion under water or repeated bobbing up and down. Often the casualty’s only concern is getting a breath.

The following water safety tips will help keep you and your family safer when enjoying our beautiful waterways and aquatic venues. Whether you are out and about or around the home, follow these tips.

  • Supervise children - Always actively supervise children when in and around water. Be within arm’s reach for under 5’s, weak or non-swimmers.
  • Restrict access - If you have a backyard pool, ensure it is fenced with a self-closing and self-latching gate in accordance with Australian Standards and State or Territory legislation.
  • Learn - Teach your child to be water confident. Swimming is a big part of Australian culture and it is essential that children are familiar with the aquatic environment from a young age.
  • Learn CPR - In many emergency situations involving children a parent will be the first person on the scene so it's vital they're able to provide lifesaving assistance until emergency help arrives.

For more information on preventing childhood drowning please visit our Keep Watch page.

You can also request a Keep Watch Presentation for your friends, community group / playgroup or child care centre.