Parliament talks drowning prevention

A one-off oral evidence session was held in Parliament by the Transport Committee on 5 December 2016. The sessions aim was to scrutinise the structure and coordination of organisations that work to prevent and respond to emergency incidents around the coastline.

It also asked questions around the issues of beach safety, and the responsibilities of beach owners and managers in ensuring the safety of the public in the light of a spate of tragic accidents at a number of locations in summer 2016.

The Chief Fire Officers Association’s Water Lead, Dawn Whittaker, was one of those invited to give evidence.

It was an excellent opportunity for CFOA and members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) to highlight the collaborative work that is undertaken to prevent drowning and also to raise awareness with politicians of the UK National Drowning Prevention Strategy. The strategy was launched in February 2016 and has an overarching aim of achieving a 50% reduction in accidental drownings in the UK by 2026. In real terms this means reducing the number of accidental drownings from approximately 400 per annum to 200.
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The session also highlighted wider issues relating to drowning including the significant issue of drowning on inland waterways which accounts for around two thirds of fatalities. Furthermore, the impact of non – fatal drowning events are significant and as Dawn Whittaker mentioned these lead to serious and life changing injuries for up to eight times as many people as fatal drowning events.

NWSF members also met last week with the Local Government Association (LGA). They are the supporting association for politicians working in local government. Again this is a crucial link to develop in order to help raise awareness of the drowning issue amongst local councils.

It is hoped that by speaking to the LGA and raising awareness, local councils will be encouraged to take positive action to help prevent drownings as part of their duty of care. Councils would be encouraged to undertake risk assessments. Data which is collated and held on the WAter Incident Database (WAID) and the expertise of the NWSF can be drawn upon and be used to inform communities of their local level risk.

A meeting with Transport Minister, the Rt. Hon John Hayes CBE, also ensured that Ministerial support for the Drowning Prevention Strategy would continue and would he would further engage with other ministers to widen that support.

Of course underpinning this awareness is a real need for education around water safety. Beckie Ramsay campaigns for drowning prevention as part of the Doing it for Dylan campaign which she set up after the loss of her son in 2011. Beckie also works as a volunteer safety advocate for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and has supported many other fire and rescue services with local campaigns and events. She welcomed the parliamentary session and was able to submit some written evidence, this is important as we must not forget these are not just numbers – they are people. If we educate children now and in the future, as we do with regard to road and fire safety this may be an important step in reducing the number of drownings. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/168941

321 people died in accidental drownings in 2015

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New figures released today (July 29) reveal that 321 people lost their lives in accidental drownings in the UK in 2015.

A new report from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF)has revealed last year’s drowning figures – and it also shows that the majority of those who died did not intend to be in the water.

  • 82 people drowned while walking or running
  • 29 deaths while taking part in a commercial activity

The number also includes 30 people who died from suspected natural causes while or after being in the water.

NWSF’s Water Incident Database (WAID) compiles drowning statistics from across the UK and breaks these down into deaths by activity, age, geographical location, and location type.

The majority of deaths occurred at the coast/beach/shore (95) and in rivers (86).

As in previous years males are most susceptible to drowning, with 232 men and boys being recorded as having drowned, compared to 43 women and girls. There was a higher number of deaths for males than females recorded in every single age bracket.

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Children and youths aged up to 19 represent 10 per cent of those killed, with 32 dying in 2015,  23 of these being in the 15-19 bracket. July represented the highest number of deaths (46, up from 34 in June and 35 in August), while many people also drowned in January (40).

In England 231 people were killed in accidental drowning or where natural causes were suspected, with 50 in Scotland, 33 in Wales, and three in Northern Ireland.

George Rawlinson, chairman of the NWSF, said: “As the holiday season commences I am saddened that still too many lives are needlessly lost, this alone clearly demonstrates the need for action. The forum, through its partner organisations, is determined to tackle drowning so that the families and loved ones of these tragedies may be comforted in the knowledge that we’re all working together to reduce incidents around our coast and inland waters and protect future generations.

“With Government support for our first National Drowning Prevention strategy launch early this year, we’re actively progressing towards a goal where more people can enjoy the water safely.”

Please read the  full copy of the UK Water-Related Fatalities 2015 report 

 

 

Holiday water safety is a must

With the summer holidays fast approaching many families will be looking forward to a well earned break.

CFOA works closely with organisations such as RLSS UK, RoSPA, RNLI and MCA to spread awareness about water safety in the UK. Please don’t forget these water safety messages when you are away from home this summer.

The issue of drowning is certainly not unique to the UK. Lack of local knowledge can also mean that foreign waters pose more risk to a visiting tourist and relaxed behaviour around pools can and does lead to tragedy.  About ¼ (143) of drownings in Spain are foreign nationals according to Escuela Segovia de Socorrismo.

Find the best spot

The temptation is to find that hidden gem of a beach and get away from everyone else.  A secluded beach is not the safest option.

We strongly suggest you use a lifeguarded beach during patrolled hours. If you have children they are like a second set of eyes however, it is important to remember that it is up to you to correctly supervise children not the lifeguard.

Dress your children in something nice and bright/ distinctive – it is easier to keep an eye on them. Make sure your children know what to do or where to go if they get lost – agree a meeting point or go to the lifeguards.

As well a looking for people in difficulty  lifeguards are also looking for other dangers such as jellyfish which may make swimming dangerous.

For holidays in the UK the RNLI have a great page on their website which allows you to look up a beach and find details of the facilities and lifeguard dates and times. It is also worth spending some time taking a look at their Respect The Water campaign which runs through the summer and highlights the issue of coastal drownings and the work RNLI to reduce the number of deaths.

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RNLI Lifeguards keeping watch over Croyde Beach

For Ireland you can check for lifeguarded beaches on Irish Water Safety.

In Spain the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) patrol many beaches and you can search for a lifeguarded beach on their site by putting in the coastal area of Spain you are visiting. It also provides useful information about each beach such as facilities and hours the beach is manned.

The Australian Lifeguard Service can help you find a suitable beach and in addition they have a beach safe app which you can download and make sure you have up to date information about nearby beaches on your holiday.

Obviously we can’t list all countries here but a simple web search for the country or region you are visiting for lifeguarded beaches should present you with useful information.

The water even in a hot region can still be very cold. This can be exacerbated by going from very hot air to cold water. Cold water shock kills. It doesn’t matter if you are normally a strong swimmer.

Learn the language

Make sure you know what the flags on the beach mean. They will indicate if you should enter the water. Like language there are differences between countries. So it’s worth double checking any information boards at the beach or asking a lifeguard.

In the UK and Australia you can expect to see red over yellow flags for a swimming area observed by lifeguards. You should swim between the flags. Also be aware that in the course of a day the lifeguards may change the position of the flags on the beach in response to changes in the water.  A red flag indicates you should not swim in the water.

Some countries such as Spain have adopted a traffic light system to indicate the conditions in the water. Red is do not enter (undercurrents, strong waves), yellow is be very cautious (possible change ) and green means calm waters (flat no undercurrent).Remember these are about the conditions in the water – they don’t mean no risk. In addition to these flags you should also see the red and yellow split flags for monitored safe swimming areas.

It is worth noting that in Italy a white flag rather than green means calm water conditions but in some areas of Spain such as the Costa del Sol a white flag can mean jellyfish. Ask if you aren’t sure.

France has a different system with triangular flags which also correspond to the above traffic light system with additional flags for water quality – blue triangle for good and orange for poor.

Relax by the pool

It’s not just the coast that poses a risk on holiday. It’s quite the norm nowadays to have a pool either at the hotel or at a villa. More information can be found on RoSPA’s website about the risks of pools.

In some countries such as France and Australia there are laws which means pools must be enclosed by fencing but the type of pools they apply to may differ and some countries have no such laws. It is also worth noting you should still remain vigilant even if there is a fence.

  • Alcohol should be avoided – never swim after drinking and don’t drink next to the pool – it is very easy to feel drowsy or fall asleep after drinking in the sun
  • Know your pool – check the depth, where is the deepest point? (the middle, which end)
  • Don’t think arm bands or a rubber rings prevent drowning
  • Clear trip hazards (such as toys) from around the pool
  • Never leave a child unsupervised near or in a pool – not even for a second
  • Don’t assume you will hear if there is a problem – children can slip below the surface silently
  • Don’t assume because a hotel pool has an attendant or lifeguard you don’t need to supervise – and remember a pool attendant is not neccessarily a trained lifeguard
  • Designate someone to keep an eye on the kids (take turns)– don’t assume that because there are a group of adults someone will notice a child falling in
  • Never leave children supervising children near a pool

If you are holidaying with a pool check the safety arrangements beforehand. Some may have an alarm system where when set if the surface of the water is broken an alarm is activated.

Some young children have drowned as they have silently wandered to the pool either early in the morning or late at night when they were thought to be asleep. Consider taking devices such as portable door alarms on holiday.

One of the best things you can also do is make sure you know what to do in an emergency. Make sure you know basic first aid and the number to call to get help and the address of where you are staying.

Make sure your children can swim – for advice take a look at the Amateur Swimming Association website. You may also wish to sign Becky Ramsey’s petition calling for water safety to be part of the national curriculum.

 

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Alcohol and water – not a good cocktail

A night out can rapidly end in tragedy as alcohol and being near bodies of water can make a lethal combination. A quarter of adult drowning victims have alcohol in their bloodstream.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can lead to risk taking behaviour such as skinny dipping. But also it means that judgement can become clouded and if something does happen people don’t necessarily know how to react safety and appropriately.

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Many young drinkers simply fall into the water. Parted from their friends they become disorientated, alcohol may mean they are slightly uncoordinated and fall in. The effect of alcohol on the body means if someone falls in they will struggle to help themselves their reactions are slowed and muscle ability limited.  With fewer people around at night to see the incident in many cases the persons’ disappearance is often not noticed until the next day.

RLSS – Don’t Drink and Drown

As part of CFOA’s drowning prevention campaign the ‘Don’t Drink and Drown’ message is being reinforced.  This campaign is delivered by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) warns young drinkers to avoid walking near or entering water when under the influence of alcohol.

The drowning prevention charity is launching its national Don’t Drink and Drown campaign on 26 September to 2 October 2016 to warn drinkers, particularly students, to act responsibly near water after they have been drinking. The campaign uses the #Don’tDrinkAndDrown.

The campaign is also runs at a local level and will launch in Brighton on April 30 to warn drinkers in this area about the dangers for the bank holiday weekend.

Water Safety advice for a night out

  • Safety in numbers – try and stay in a group. If the group is split up phone each other and try and meet up. Don’t assume your friend has met up with someone else
  • Keep and eye out for friends that have had too much to drink. Keep them close and don’t let them wander off
  • Avoid walking near water especially at night when it can be hard to see trip hazards or the waters edge– even if the path is well lit you may be unsteady on your feet
  • Make sure you have a taxi number in your phone and keep emergency taxi money at home so you know you can always get yourself and a friend home safety

Dog walkers – be aware

Fire and rescue service throughout the country will often mention rescuing dog walkers when we discuss drowning prevention. So, it seems an appropriate time to give some safety advice for dog walkers as part of drowning prevention week. This advice is in addition to the general advice for walkers which CFOA has mentioned previously. Hopefully some simple advice will stop dog walkers and their four legged friends getting into trouble near water.CFOA_Water Safety Poster_DOG

Not all dogs are good swimmers and not all dogs love water. Some dogs seem to be built for swimming with such as a Labrador with water repellent coats and webbed feet whilst others such as short legged and short haired breeds are more likely to struggle in water. Be mindful of your dogs abilities but also please take into account their age.

Most commonly fire services are called to dog walking incidents because an owner has entered the water to rescue a dog but there have been cases where people have entered trying to retrieve a toy for the dog.

Dog walkers safety advice

  • If your dog loves the water make sure you have control of it. Keep it on a lead until you are ready to let him in for a swim. Make sure your dog won’t pull you into the water, if you can’t hold him back and stop him jumping in maybe reconsider walking near water
  • Be careful about throwing stick or toys in for the dog to retrieve – there could be currents or hazards under the water
  • Don’t throw things out too far – your dog may tire and struggle to make it back
  • Most dogs can only swim for a short time – they can become tired quickly. Not only can they get into trouble in the water they may then find if difficult to scramble out.
  • Look at the edges – rocks, wet river banks, steep edges can all make it hard for a dog to get out of the water.
  • Don’t try and lift your dog out of the water. You can easily over balance and fall in
  • Be very careful following a dog over mud or sand.  Many fire services have had to rescue people from sinking into mud or ‘quicksand’
  • Never enter the water to try and rescue a dog. Call for help. The chances are if you follow the dog in it will be you that need rescuing. Sometimes the dog manages to scramble out but the owner is not so lucky

If your dog has struggled in the water and has managed to make it out it is worth getting them checked by a vet. Just as with humans, if water has entered the lungs drowning can occur at a later stage.

Running or walking? don’t slip up

Just going for a walk or a quick run doesn’t sound like an activity you wouldn’t return safely from. In fact, an organisation asked to help spread the message declined – ‘because walking is safe’.  Yes, walking and running are safe but people need to be mindful if they are near water – no matter how safe they perceive their activity to be, the risks change. Not being aware is how you get caught out.

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The WAID statistics speak for themselves. Not only are runners and walkers the group most at risk of accidental drowning, but this group has also seen a jump in the number of fatalities in recent years.

2010       58

2011       87

2012       54

2013       126

2014       138 (during 2014 113 cyclists died on UK roads)

Rivers have been identified as the body of water which poses the greatest risk.

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Runners and walkers drowning by body of water 2012-2015

Losing your footing, tripping or slipping can be fatal near water.  If you are alone the risk is increased as it’s up to you to get out. Once you enter the water cold water shock can make it impossible for your body to cope with the water. Even the strongest swimmers would struggle – click here to see how Sharon Davies and Duncan Goodhew coped 

If you are with someone who can raise the alarm and help you – safely and appropriately – you stand a greater chance of survival. In an RNLI commissioned study of fatalities in the UK and Republic of Ireland 2010-2013 70% of analysed coastal walking fatalities were alone at the time.

Safety advice for runners and walkers

  • Make sure your walk or run is suitable for your fitness level
  • Consider joining a running or walking group
  • Be aware and take notice of any warning signs when running or walking next to water
  • Stay clear of the edges – river banks and cliff edges may be unstable and give way
  • Wear appropriate footwear and clothing
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone and check signal strength, know how to use it and who to call in an emergency
  • Look out for trip or slip hazards – pay attention to your footing
  • Stick to proper pathways
  • Don’t walk or run next to water if levels are high
  • Make sure you know exactly where you are – consider something like an OS locate app for a smart phone or a map. This may mean no delay in help locating you
  • Don’t assume just because you have walked or run a route many times before it is still safe
  • Avoid walking or running near water in the dark

If you enjoy spending time near water please make sure you know how to help someone if they should fall in.

  • Call for help – straightaway. Call 999, if you are near the coast ask for the coastguard, if you are inland ask for fire service and ambulance.
  • The emergency services will need to know where you are. Accurate information can save precious minutes. If you have a smart phone and have location services or map tool enabled, this can help. If not look around for any landmarks or signs – for example bridges will often have numbers on them which can identify their location.
  • Don’t hang up – stay on the line but try and continue to help the person if appropriate. When you have made this call shout for help from anyone who might be close by.
  • Never ever enter the water to try and save someone. This usually ends up adding to the problem. If you go into the water you are likely to suffer from cold water shock which will leave you unable to help even if you are a strong swimmer.
  • Can the person help themselves? Shout to them ‘Swim to me’. Keep any instructions short clear and loud. Don’t shout instructions using different words each time.
  • Look around for any lifesaving equipment. Depending on where you are there might be lifebelts or throw bags – use them. If they are attached to a rope make sure you have secured or are holding the end of the rope so you can pull them in.
  • If there is no lifesaving equipment look at what else you can use. There may be something that can help them stay afloat – even an item such as a ball can help.
  • You could attempt to reach out to them. Clothes such as scarves can be used to try and reach or a long stick. If you do this lie on the ground so your entire body is safely on the edge and reach out with your arm.
  • Don’t lean over the water– you may get pulled in.
  • If you manage to get the person out of the water they will always need medical attention. Even if they seem fine drowning can occur at a later stage if water has already entered the lungs.
  • If the person is unconscious you will need to check they are breathing. If they are not breathing they need 5 rescue breathes and then CPR (30 Chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breathes). Continue until help arrives. If the person is unconscious but breathing put them in the recovery position with their head lower than their body.
  • If they are conscious try and keep them warm. If you can remove wet clothes and give them something dry to put on as they are at risk of hypothermia.

Water safety advice is a fisherman’s friend

Today the focus of CFOA’s Drowning Prevention campaign is fishermen. Most people will be aware that commercial fishing is considered to be a risky business, but that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about those who enjoy to fish for a hobby.

A significant number of fisherman lose their lives each year. Fire and rescue services hope that by encouraging fisherman to make some changes in their behaviour, take on board some safety advice and be prepared if something should happen this number can be reduced. We want fisherman to continue to enjoy their hobby – safely.

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Activities in and around water can be made safer. If we compare sailing to fishing initially it could be supposed sailing would be a higher risk activity. WAID statistics show us the opposite.

Year                       Sailing                   Fishing

2012                           10                                24

2013                            11                                 14

2014                            7                                 14

The key point is if you go sailing you might expect to end up in the water and therefore take the necessary precautions for that eventuality. Most fisherman do not expect to end up in the water and do not plan for that event.

Recent WAID statistics also show some bodies of water have a higher risk than others. Coastal fishing is higher risk. For the most part this is due to the unpredictable nature of the sea. One of the changes fisherman can make is to consider wearing a lifejacket, especially when fishing on the coast. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) says the majority of the fatalities they see relating to fishing are people being swept from exposed shorelines and many of these lives would not have been lost if a lifejacket had been worn.

fishing blog stats

Between 2010 and 2013 the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) say about 86 lives would have been saved if lifejacket had been worn. Are we really expecting fishermen to wear a lifejacket?  Well why not? Small changes in behaviour can save lives – cyclists wearing a helmet – smoke alarms installed in your home. These small changes have saved lives.

Safety Advice

  • Check forecast and weather conditions before you go
  • Make sure you let someone know where you are going to fish
  • Make sure you know exactly where you are – consider something like an OS locate app for a smart phone or a map
  • Give someone an idea of when you are likely to return
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone and check signal strength, know how to use it and who to call in an emergency
  • Double check your fishing spot. Is it safe? For example, riverbanks can erode and just because it was safe one day doesn’t mean it still is
  • Dress appropriately, sturdy footwear, sun hat in hot weather, warm layers in cold
  • Coastal and sea fishing is particularly high risk Make sure you know your spot is safe and you won’t get cut off by the tide
  • Wear a lifejacket

What to do if someone falls into deep water

Knowing how to act, quickly and appropriately can mean life or death. If you spend time near the water take a few minutes to make sure you would know how to help somebody.

  • Call 999, if you are near the coast ask for the coastguard, if you are inland ask for fire service and ambulance
  • The emergency services will need to know where you are. If you have a smart phone and have location services or map tool enabled this can help. If not, look around for any landmarks or signs
  • Don’t hang up – stay on the line but try and continue to help the person if appropriate
  • Shout for help from anyone who might be close by
  • Never ever enter the water to try and save someone. This usually ends up adding to the problem. If you go into the water you are likely to suffer from cold water shock which will leave you unable to help even if you are a strong swimmer
  • Can the person help themselves? Shout to them ‘Swim to me’. Keep any instructions short clear and loud. Don’t shout instructions using different words each time.
  • Look around for lifesaving equipment. Depending on where you are there might be lifebelts or throw bags – use them
  • If there is no lifesaving equipment look at what else you can use. There may be something that can help them stay afloat – even an item such as a ball can help
  • You could attempt to reach out to them. Clothes such as scarves can be used to try and reach or a long stick. If you do this lie on the ground so your entire body is safely on the edge and reach out with your arm
  • Don’t lean over the water– you may get pulled in
  • If you manage to get the person out of the water they will always need medical attention. Even if they seem fine drowning can occur at a later stage if water has already entered the lungs
  • If the person is unconscious you will need to check they are breathing. If they are not breathing they need 5 rescue breathes and then CPR (30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breathes). Continue until help arrives
  • If the person is unconscious but breathing put them in the recovery position with their head lower than their body
  • If they are conscious try and keep them warm. If you can, remove wet clothes and give them something dry to put on – they are at risk of hypothermia