Drowning Prevention Week stresses vigilance

It's not just young children who are at risk; older children and teens can get into trouble in the water if they overestimate their swimming skill level.

Drowning Prevention Week

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As families head to beaches and kids cool off in lakes and backyard swimming pools, health professionals and injury prevention experts are urging parents and caregivers to prioritize water safety.

Lifesaving Society Canada is again bringing awareness to the nation’s drowning problem during National Drowning Prevention Week from July 18–24, 2021. The Lifesaving Society — the lead organization responsible for drowning prevention — has been researching and reporting on drowning and preventable water-related deaths in each province and nationally since 1990.

Over 400 people fatally drown every year in Canada, making it the second leading cause of unintentional death for children and the third leading cause of unintentional death for adults. According to the Canadian Red Cross, every year approximately 60 children aged 14 and under drown, and another 140 children are hospitalized after nearly drowning. And the victims are not just limited to young children; older children and teens are also at risk because they may tend to overestimate their swimming skill level.

2021 off to an alarming start

Summer hadn’t even officially started before Urgences-Santé issued an alert calling for vigilance. The ambulance service organization — the largest in Quebec ‑ recorded a steep increase in drownings and near-drowning interventions in June throughout the Montreal and Laval area. From June 1 to June 30, the service responded to 20 cases – five times more than the four that took place in June 2020.

Preliminary data from the 2021 Edition of the Canadian Drowning Prevention Plan indicates that there were more fatal drownings in Canada during the previous year, which may have been exacerbated by many of the drowning prevention interventions — such as swimming lessons — being paused or reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Access to swimming lessons is a challenge

Adam Di Fulvio, president and CEO of the Montreal Institute of Swimming, told Montreal Families that the lack of access to swimming lessons due to the pandemic is a significant cause for concern. “Many children have gone over 16 months without swim lessons, and the impacts are being seen as kids return to the pool. Swimmers are showing significant signs of regression: kids who had just learned to swim have regressed to non-swimmers, and even capable swimmers are showing signs of rust and hesitation.”

The Lifesaving Society notes that swim skills need to be taught and that basic swimming ability is a requirement of any meaningful attempt to eliminate drowning in Canada.

“Accessing swimming lessons continues to be a challenge: many pools are not offering full programming, class sizes are limited by pool capacity restrictions, and the ongoing lifeguard shortage are all having an impact on pools’ abilities to offer swim lessons,” said Di Fulvio. “It is imperative that government and aquatic federations collaborate to meet these challenges head-on, and improve accessibility to swim lessons immediately.”

Essential measures

The Lifesaving Society reminds everyone that drowning is fast— often occurring in less than 30 seconds — and contrary to what we see in movies, it’s silent. To help reduce drowning, all Canadians should ensure that safety measures are put in place

Vigilant supervision
According to the 2020 National Drowning Report, in 92 per cent of drownings among children under the age of five, the child was not supervised or the person supervising them was distracted.

It is critical that parents and caregivers watch children while they are in the water and remain in arm’s reach. The Montreal Children’s Hospital cites texting, talking on the phone, reading, consuming alcohol, or talking to a neighbor as distractions that need to be removed when supervising around any body of water.

Designate an adult
Whether in the backyard, at a lake, or at a pool party, do not assume that someone else is supervising and always designate a responsible adult to be “on duty.” Even if lifeguards are present, additional supervision adds another layer of protection against drowning. Lifeguards are not substitutes for adequate supervision of children in bodies of water.

Restrict access to pools
Private backyard pools are the most common setting where children 1 to 4 years of age fatally drown in Canada. Most often, these children were alone and accidentally fell into the water when no adult is supervising them. Discuss backyard pool safety, and control and restrict access to the water with multiple layers of protection such as self-closing gates and fences.

Based on the safety recommendations of several coroners, The Quebec Government amended the regulations regarding backyard pools and spas on July 1, 2021, to make the installations around new residential swimming pools even safer. And while homeowners with pools that were installed before that date have until July 1, 2023, to make any needed changes, they’re urged to carry out the necessary work as soon as possible. To see if your backyard setup needs additional safety measures, consult the website of the Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l’Habitation. The Government also cites other measures regarding water safety, all of which can be found HERE.

All Canadians are encouraged to wear a properly fitted lifejacket when out on a boat. Lifejackets are for every age and ability — even strong swimmers.
Remember that lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PDFs) are a layer of protection but do not replace adult supervision. Items such as water wings, bathing suits with flotation devices in them, and other swim toys are not safety devices.

First aid/CPR
Drownings can occur in the blink of an eye and in as little as 2.5 centimetres of water. To minimize risks, Urgences-santé reiterates the importance of always remaining vigilant when near the water and wearing life jackets. They also stress the importance of learning CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) skills. The organization says that survival can hinge on how quickly CPR is performed, with the survival rate of a person who goes into cardiac arrest decreasing by up to 10% for every minute without treatment. Because it is citizens who are usually already on the scene of a drowning or incident, they can provide first aid and help save lives by performing CPR until paramedics or first responders arrive.

For more measures to prevent a tragedy, visit the website for The Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) Trauma Centre.