Drowning Prevention and Water Safety 

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service works with partners to keep it's communities safe around water.

Accidental drowning causes more than 400 UK deaths every year and hundreds more will have a non-fatal drowning experience.

The first Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) Water Safety and Drowning Prevention week will run from the 13-19 April this year and is extensively focused on the main areas of drowning in the UK, which are swimming and recreational use of open water.

Cooling off in rivers, canals, ponds, quarries and lakes can have deadly consequences.  So firefighters are urging people, particularly children and teenagers, not to swim anywhere other than in purpose-built and supervised swimming pools, unless they are members of an organised swimming group.

The campaign is focusing on raising awareness of the issue of Cold Water Shock by encouraging everyone, but especially young people to share the message ‘Tell a friend. Save a friend’ and to be aware of the risks around water.

Cold water shock

Cold water shock causes a number of fatalities every year as young people – even those who are strong swimmers – aren’t aware of the effect that it can have on their ability to swim in open water. On a warm day, the temperature of the water in a reservoir, quarry, lake or pool can remain very cold and the shock of cold water creates a physical response that can make it more difficult to swim, and can even cause death.

CFOA’s Water Safety Lead, Dawn Whittaker, warned:

“While reservoirs, lakes, rivers and other inland water may look safe and inviting, particularly on a warm day, there are hidden dangers below the surface that could make you ill, hurt you, and – at worst – could kill you.

“Cold Water Shock is a physical response that can not only affect your breathing, but will reduce your muscle ability and can even lead to a heart attack. Moving water, such as rivers, may look calm but may have strong currents below the surface which can carry even strong swimmers into danger. And, of course, from out of the water, or above, you may not be able to see dangerous obstructions such as large rocks or dead branches that can cause you injury.

“You may also want to consider the fact that open water is untreated, and may be polluted with bacteria and algae that can give you stomach upsets, or even with organisms that can cause a number of nasty illnesses including Weil’s Disease, Trachoma and Whipworm.

The CFOA Water Safety Group have created a list of the ‘Fatal Five’ causes of drowning to base the public safety message around:

The drowning prevention FATAL FIVE:

  1. Cold water shock – low water temperature can numb limbs and claim lives
  2. Do you know what is in or under the water surface – entrapment hazards, pollution etc.
  3. Currents or water conditions – includes floods, unknown depths, ice, riptides, eddies etc.
  4. Alcohol consumption – don’t swim if you have been drinking (this is a big issue, particularly with young men)
  5. Swimming Competency – don’t assume because you can swim in a pool that you can deal with the challenges of open water swimming – the key messages here are swim in safe areas, or where there is supervision or a lifeguard.

Age is one of the major risk factors for accidental drowning’s ³ and in the UK it remains the third highest cause of death in children

Males are especially at risk of drowning, with twice the overall mortality rate of females. They are more likely to be hospitalized than females for non-fatal drowning. Studies suggest that the higher drowning rates among males are due to increased exposure to water and riskier behaviour such as swimming alone, drinking alcohol before swimming.

Over the coming weeks CFOA will publish a tool kit for the drowning prevention week to assist any community or media engagement activities in your area. The target messages this year will be focused upon ‘Cold Water Shock’ and in particular at 16 – 30 year old people.

Top tips

  • Don’t swim in old quarries or clay pits they may be very deep, have unseen hazards below the surface and the water is often contaminated.
  • Remember that lakes and rivers remain cold all year round (warm shallow areas just a few metres from the shore can be misleading about the temperatures further out). Moving water cools the body 250 times faster than still water!
  • Take extra care on river banks, they are often slippery and can crumble, at least 22% of people who drown fall into the water by accident.
  • Never swim near locks or weirs where water flows quickly and water levels may change suddenly.
  • Always wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket for activities on the water or at the water’s edge (such as when boating or fishing).
  • Never enter the water after consuming alcohol.

³ World Health Organisation Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer 2014

               Contact Details

South Wales Fire & Rescue Service
Forest View Business Park
CF72 8LX

Tel: 01443 232000
Fax: 01443 232180

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Page Last Updated on 14/4/2015