Every summer, Albertans flock to waterparks, pools, and lakes to beat the heat. While enjoying these summer activities, it’s important always to be mindful of water safety. Each year, hundreds of people drown in Canada, and many more suffer from serious personal injuries caused by near-drowning experiences. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children under the age of five. Adults over the age of 65 also experience drowning at high rates compared to other age groups. In Canada, drowning is one of the top 10 causes of preventable death.
This year, National Drowning Prevention Week is July 17 to 23, 2022, and World Drowning Prevention Day is July 25, 2022. These events are dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of water safety.
What is National Drowning Prevention Week?
National Drowning Prevention Week is an annual event that takes place the third week of July to raise awareness about the dangers of drowning and water safety. The campaign is led by the Lifesaving Society, a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to reducing the incidences of drowning and water-related injury through prevention programs, education, and research. The week-long campaign encourages people to take precautions when swimming, boating, and participating in other water-related activities. It also provides resources and tips on how to prevent drowning accidents.
For 2022, National Drowning Prevention Week is focused on seven main themes that have been identified as significant risk factors for drowning:
- The drowning problem – who is most at risk
- Supervising children – targeting parents and caregivers of young children
- Boating safety – risk factors and safe boating practices
- Learning to swim – the importance of learning to swim with an emphasis on survival swimming skills
- Staying sober in, on, and around water
- Open water safety – thinking ahead, knowing your limits, and being prepared
- Just keep learning – training that can save lives.
What is Drowning?
Drowning is a process that occurs when someone is submerged in water and is unable to breathe. There are four main stages of drowning: gasping, hypoxia, unconsciousness, and brain damage:
- Gasping is the first stage of drowning and occurs when a person is struggling to breathe. This is often accompanied by frantic movements of the arms and legs.
- Hypoxia is the second stage and is characterized by a lack of oxygen in the blood.
- Unconsciousness is the third stage and is when a person loses all brain function. This can occur within minutes of submerging in water.
- Brain damage is the fourth and final stage of drowning and is usually irreversible. It can occur even if a person is revived and brought back to consciousness.
According to statistics from 2021, roughly 286 people die of drowning in Canada each year. More than 90% of these drownings occur in natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. In many drownings, the victim unexpectedly fell or did not intend to go into the water. Most drownings occur between May and September.
Some other facts about drowning in Canada:
- 79% of drowning victims are male
- 12% of all drownings in Canada occur in bathtubs
- Swimming was responsible for 32% of water-related fatalities from common recreational activities
- Boating was responsible for 24% of drownings – 54% involving powerboats, 20% involving canoes, and 7% involving kayaks
- In 92% of drowning fatalities amongst children age five and younger, supervision is absent or distracted
- 80% of people who drown while boating are not wearing a lifejacket or are not wearing it correctly
- Alcohol is a factor in about 30% of all drowning deaths in Canada
Risk Factors for Drowning
While anyone can be at risk of drowning, some factors can make it more likely. For example, children under the age of five are at the highest risk. Other groups of people who are at increased risk of drowning include immigrants or new Canadians and individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes, seizure disorder, and epilepsy.
Many factors can contribute to a drowning accident. Some of the most common include:
- Not being able to swim – Non-swimmers are at a greater risk of drowning than those who can swim. About half of all drowning victims in Canada cannot swim.
- Lack of supervision – Drownings often happen when children are not adequately supervised.
- Taking part in water activities alone – Drowning incidents are more likely to occur when people venture out into open water alone.
- Faulty or missing safety equipment – For example, a lack of life jackets or other personal floating devices. In nearly 80% of all drowning fatalities, victims are not wearing life jackets.
- Risky behaviours – Risky behaviours, such as diving into shallow water, swimming in dangerous areas, cold water or poor weather conditions, can lead to drowning.
- Drinking alcohol before or during water activities – Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time, making it more difficult to stay safe in the water.
If you plan to participate in any water-related activities, it is crucial to be aware of these risk factors and take steps to minimize them. For example, if you are not a strong swimmer, it is essential to stay within your depth and not venture into areas where you could get into trouble. Similarly, if you are consuming alcohol, it is vital to do so responsibly and not put yourself at risk by swimming or participating in other activities while under the influence.
Water Safety Tips
Despite the alarming statistics, drowning is preventable. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of drowning accidents, such as:
- Make sure there is a lifeguard present if you are swimming in a public pool or at the beach;
- Make sure children are supervised at all times when they are near water, even if they know how to swim;
- Learn how to swim and know your limitations;
- Be aware of the dangers of diving into shallow water;
- Be mindful of the risks of rip currents;
- Avoid alcohol when around water;
- Be aware of the current weather conditions;
- Wear a life jacket when you are on a boat or near open water;
- If you have a pool, make sure it’s properly fenced and that the gate is always locked; and
- Learning CPR.
While there is no sure way to prevent drowning, following these safety measures can help reduce the risk of water-related accidents and injuries.
Contact Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Trusted Advice on Water-Related Personal Injuries & Wrongful Deaths
Cuming & Gillespie LLP provides effective advocacy and robust legal advice to individuals injured in any type of recreational incident, including boating, waterpark, and other water-related accidents. We help clients recover the maximum compensation for serious or catastrophic injuries arising from near-drowning events, as well as wrongful death claims by family members who have lost a loved one. Our team of skilled personal injury lawyers serves clients in Calgary, Edmonton, and throughout the great province of Alberta. To schedule a consultation, contact us online or call 403-571-0555 (toll-free at 1-800-682-2480).