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Water safety for children

Summary

Drowning is a leading cause of death for toddlers. Always supervise a child around any water, including swimming pools, baths, dams, creeks, the beach and irrigation channels. Teach your child to swim, but remember this is not a substitute for adult supervision. Learn emergency resuscitation techniques including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

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Drowning is a leading cause of death for toddlers. On average, five children aged from birth to four years drown every year in Victoria. Most drowning deaths occur in bathtubs, backyard swimming pools and spas.

More than two thirds of toddler drowning deaths occur in regional Victoria, typically in dams, creeks, rivers, irrigation channels and water troughs, as well as home pools and baths.

It is estimated that for every child who dies from drowning, ten survive, but they may have long-term effects such as permanent brain damage.

Toddlers are most at risk near water


Toddlers aged between one and three years are most at risk, because they are mobile and curious, but don’t understand the danger of water. You can considerably reduce the risks by supervising your child around water at all times and by teaching them to swim.

Taking precautions to reduce the risk of drowning around your home is also very important. A toddler or child can drown in five centimetres of water. Every exposed water source, no matter how shallow, poses a significant danger.

It is important to provide barriers to prevent access to water sources. You should also learn resuscitation techniques so that you know what to do if you are faced with an emergency.

Supervise your child around water


The most important preventive tactic is to supervise your child around water at all times. This means actively watching them, keeping them within arm’s reach and not just glancing up every now and then. Don’t assume they will splash and yell for help if they get into trouble. Twenty seconds is all it takes for a toddler to drown.

Learn to swim


Children can take formal swimming instruction from the age of four years. Water safety skills make up part of the tuition. Swimming programs are available for younger children and babies, but the emphasis is on building confidence and encouraging the child to enjoy water, rather than teaching them to swim.

Children under five years of age may not be able to use their swimming skills in an emergency, so never rely on this to keep them safe.

Flotation devices


If you buy personal flotation devices like inflatable vests or ‘floaties’, make sure that they conform to Australian Standards – always check the label. You should think of these devices as something to help familiarise your child with water, not as a safety item.

A flotation device is not a replacement for supervision. Always supervise your child when they are wearing their personal flotation device, in case they tumble upside down or slip through the vest.

Water safety around the house


Suggestions for reducing the risks of your child drowning in and around the home include:
  • Always supervise your child in the bath.
  • Never leave an older child to supervise the younger child in the bath.
  • Take your child with you if your telephone or doorbell rings while supervising your child in the bath.
  • Empty the bath immediately after use.
  • Always keep the doors to the bathroom and laundry securely closed.
  • Use a nappy bucket with a tight-fitting lid, and keep the bucket closed at all times and out of your child’s reach.
  • Cover ponds, birdbaths and similar water sources with mesh.
  • Keep pet water bowls, aquariums and fish bowls well out of little children’s reach.

Water safety around backyard pools and spas


To reduce the risk of your child drowning in the backyard pool:
  • Install a fence – pool fencing is required by law for any swimming pool or spa in excess of 300 mm (30 cm) in depth – and it must be maintained for the life of the pool or spa. Pool fencing must comply with the Australian Standard AS1926. Your local council can provide information on pool fencing laws.
  • Regularly check that the safety latch on the gate is in good working order.
  • Clear surrounding area – don’t leave any items or equipment close to the pool fence that would allow your child to climb up and over the fence.
  • Pack toys away – don’t leave floating toys in the pool or your child may try to reach for them.
  • Tip out water – empty wading pools immediately after use.
  • Check your surroundings – when visiting other people’s houses, ask whether or not the owners have a pool, spa, pond or other body of exposed water on their land.

Water safety at the beach


Suggestions for reducing the risk of your child drowning in a public swimming pool include:
  • Supervise your child at all times.
  • Children under five years must be within arm’s reach at all times and children under 10 years must always be in your sight.
  • The supervision of children in aquatic facilities is not the sole responsibility of lifeguards.
  • Lifeguards are employed on a 1:100 ratio. This is based on the expectation that parents will provide direct supervision of children.
  • Parents are required to provide the constant and direct supervision needed for young children.
Suggestions for reducing the risks of your child drowning at the beach include:
  • Supervise your child at all times.
  • Don’t assume that a beach that was safe in the past is safe now, since the action of waves, weather and wind can influence depth and rips.
  • Only take your child to beaches with lifesaving patrols.
  • Make sure you and your child swim between the red and yellow flags.
  • Teach your child what to do if they get into trouble: remain calm, float and raise an arm to signal for help from a lifesaver or lifeguard.

Water safety at dams and waterways


Suggestions for reducing the risks of your child drowning in dams and other waterways include:
  • Supervise your child around waterways.
  • Warn your child of the dangers of swimming in dams and rivers.
  • Make sure you have a safe play area for your child well away from any dam or waterway.

First aid courses for parents


Emergency medical treatment for young children or babies isn’t always the same as for adults, which is why all parents should take an infant or child first aid course that includes cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Your local council
  • In an emergency, always call triple zero (000) and ask for assistance from any nearby people who may have resuscitation skills
  • Life Saving Victoria (CPR and first aid courses, aquatic education programs for toddlers and children) Tel. (03) 9676 6900
  • St John Ambulance Australia, Victoria (CPR courses) Tel. 1300 360 455
  • Vicswim Tel. (03) 9271 3800
  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Product safety (for baby bath safety information) Tel. 1300 302 502

Things to remember

  • Around five children aged from birth to four years drown every year in Victoria.
  • Parents can reduce the risks by supervising their child around water at all times, teaching them to swim and taking precautions to reduce the risk of drowning around their home.
  • All parents should ideally take a course in infant or child first aid, including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Life Saving Victoria

(Logo links to further information)


Life Saving Victoria

Last reviewed: March 2014

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.


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Drowning is a leading cause of death for toddlers. Always supervise a child around any water, including swimming pools, baths, dams, creeks, the beach and irrigation channels. Teach your child to swim, but remember this is not a substitute for adult supervision. Learn emergency resuscitation techniques including cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).



Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

For the latest updates and more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

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