Water - It Is Only Safe While You Are Watching

16 November 2019

“Always keep watch of children around water.” It’s a familiar message at this time of year and one we can easily become complacent about. You know how important it is to supervise young children when they’re swimming or bathing, and you take precautions when it comes to your child’s safety around water. You dress your child in their bathers and floaties, carefully cover them with sunscreen and walk hand-in-hand to the pool, where you watch them closely every second.

However, the reality is that most of the time when a child drowns, they managed to find their own way unsupervised to the water while their parents or carers were briefly distracted.

The Royal Life Saving Society’s campaign ‘Water. It’s only safe while you’re watching’ aims to remind parents and others who care for children of the risk that water can pose if children are allowed to access it on their own.

In WA, approximately 4 children under the age of 5 fatally drown each year. In most cases, they were last seen by an adult inside the house or playing happily outdoors – alone, or in the company of other children. While unsupervised, they might have crawled through a propped-open pool gate, slipped out the back door and found their way to a paddling pool, fish pond or bucket, or dragged furniture over which allowed them to climb over a pool barrier.

The children at greatest risk are those between the ages of one and two years. Toddlers are always on the move and they’re curious, active and eager to explore their surroundings. Water can be an appealing destination but at this young age they simply cannot understand the danger that water presents and are unable to protect themselves from possible injury.

The two most important things you can do to keep your child safe are to provide close, constant supervision around water and to put in barriers in place for those inevitable times when supervision might lapse.

If your child is in or near water, you need to give them your undivided visual attention. Drowning can happen within seconds and is silent, which means that it’s not enough to just ‘keep an ear out’ for children – you may not realise something has gone wrong until it’s too late. It’s common at this time of year to have family gatherings and backyard BBQs with friends, which bring additional distractions into the home. It’s vital that during these gatherings an adult is designated to supervise children, and that children are not left in the care of older siblings. Never assume that ‘someone’ has an eye on kids – ensure that you know who is responsible for supervising at all times.

Wherever possible, limit children’s access to water around the home. Around half of all toddler drownings happen in a home swimming pool, many of which could be prevented with a properly installed and maintained barrier. In many cases, the child gained access to the pool area through a faulty fence or gate, or a gate which had been deliberately propped open. Drowning can be prevented by pool owners never propping gates open and taking the time to check that their gate is self-closing and self-latching and there are no gaps or broken components. Empty out other water sources like paddling pools and buckets immediately after use.

Drowning is preventable and by putting these simple steps in place you can reduce the risk and keep your child safe.

The Keep Watch toddler drowning prevention campaign is supported in Western Australia by the Western Australian Department of Health and BHP. You can find out more about Keep Watch and read more tips about keeping children safe around water at the link below.

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