Keeping children safe around water

Pools and beaches are fun and a cool relief from hot weather, however, water can also be dangerous for children if parents don't take proper precautions.

Children need constant supervision around water, whether in a bathtub, pool, a spa, the beach, or a lake. Younger children are especially at risk. According to research they can drown in less than two inches (six centimetres) of water. That means drowning can happen where you would least expect it to - the sink, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home. Always watch children closely when they are in or near any water.

Do not assume that a child who knows how to swim isn't at risk for drowning. Children need to be supervised in the water, no matter their swimming skills. Infants, toddlers, and weak swimmers in particular should have an adult swimmer within arm's reach to provide supervision.

Invest in proper-fitting, floatation devices (life vests) and ensure you children wear them whenever near water. Check the weight and size recommendations on the label, then have your child try it on to make sure it fits snugly. Devices such as pool covers and alarms are great safety investments and can help prevent pool-related drownings. Just be sure your pool cover is secure as kids may try to walk on top of it and may get trapped underneath a pool cover.

It is also important to teach your children proper pool behaviour. Let kids know that they should contact the lifeguard or an adult if there's an emergency. Kids shouldn't run or push around the pool and should never dive in areas that are not marked for diving. If the weather turns bad, they should get out of the pool immediately.

The bathroom is also full of dangers. Never leave a young child unattended in the bathroom, especially while bathing, even if the child appears to be well propped in a safety tub or bath ring. Put away hair dryers and all other electrical appliances to avoid the risk of electrocution. Hot water also can be dangerous, particularly for kids younger than five, who have thinner skin than older kids and adults, so can burn more easily. Just three seconds of exposure to hot tap water that's 60°C can give a child a third-degree burn.

Water Safety and Babies

Drowning, although the biggest worry, isn't the only concern when babies are exposed to water. Infants are particularly susceptible to diseases that can spread through water.

After getting in the pool, wash your baby with a mild soap and shampoo the hair to remove pool chemicals. Also dry the baby's ears carefully with a towel or cotton ball to help prevent swimmer's ear.

Infants also can spread disease in a pool. Cryptosporidium can be released into pools by babies with leaky diapers. When swallowed by other swimmers, the parasite can cause severe diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and dehydration.

The safest thing to do is to keep your baby out of public pools until the child is potty trained. If you do decide to take the baby in for a dip, use waterproof diapers only and change the diapers often, washing your child well each time. Keep any child with diarrhea or a gastrointestinal illness out of the pool during the illness and for two weeks afterward. Provide frequent bathroom breaks for kids who are already toilet trained. 

What to Do in an Emergency

Seconds count when it comes to water emergencies. If you find a child in the water, immediately get the child out while calling loudly for help. If someone else is available, have them call 998 for ambulance. Check to make sure the child's air passages are clear. If the child is not breathing, start CPR if you are trained to do so. When the emergency number is called, follow the instructions the emergency operators provide.

If you think the child may have suffered a neck injury, such as from diving, keep the child on his or her back and brace the neck and shoulders with your hands and forearms to help keep the neck from moving until emergency help arrives. This type of immobilisation minimises further injury to the spine. Keep the child still and speak in calm tones to keep the child comforted. 

A few tips to protect against recreational water illnesses:

  • Kids with diarrhoea should not swim.
  • Take kids on bathroom breaks often and change swim diapers often (not at the poolside).
  • If you are taking a baby in the water who is not potty trained, use a swim diaper.
  • Wash hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Avoid swallowing or getting water in your mouth.
  • Keep a pool's water clean by showering before entering the pool.