The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) website offers a host of information and advice to help individuals and families prevent accidents from happening. Its Leisure Safety Advice and Information page covers a range of advice on activities including trampolining, cycling and camping safety. For more information visit https://www.rospa.com/leisure-safety/advice/
Open water (including river safety)
Information from our partners West Mercia Police
Every year, and in particular during the warmer summer months, the police receive reports of people jumping into rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs and quarries, and getting into difficulty.
Some people have been successfully rescued but tragically a number have lost their lives. According to the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) 85 per cent of accidental drownings happen in open water, often due to a lack of understanding or awareness of the dangers at such locations.
There is also a misconception that such tragedies usually involve people who are poor swimmers. In fact the shock of sudden cold water immersion or inhalation can cause instant death due to a condition known as vagal inhibition or 'reflex cardiac arrest'.
This has been attributed as a cause of cold water deaths and can affect the strongest of swimmers and the fittest of people.
However you don't have to go swimming or paddling to be at risk. The RLSS UK says that the largest proportion of drownings in the UK involve people walking or running next to open water.
Anyone using open water or near it needs to be aware of hazards and other risk factors including:
- Injury if jumping or diving into water which is shallower than it appears
- Deeper water than expected, which can increase the risk of drowning if you get into difficulty
- Cold temperatures, particularly in deeper water, which can make swimming difficult and make it harder to get out
- Open water can be very cold even on a hot summer's day, leading to cramp and breathing difficulties
- River banks can be unstable and liable to collapse if you get too close to the edge
- If you are in the water the loose and slippery sides of quarries and banks can make it difficult to climb out
- There may be hidden obstacles or objects under the surface which could trap a person or cause injury
- Strong currents can rapidly sweep people away and they may be present even when the surface looks calm
- It is often difficult for the emergency services to access open water sites such as quarries and riverbanks off the beaten track.
Top tips to stay safe
It is clear from all of the above that everyone needs to take extra care when in or near open water and to adhere to the following safety advice:
- Take notice of warning and guidance signs - water conditions are constantly changing
- Swim parallel with the shore, rather than away from it, and avoid drifting in currents
- Get out of the water as soon as you start to feel cold
- Alcohol and swimming should never be mixed
- If walking or running keep away from the water's edge and supervise youngsters at all times
- Don't use airbeds at open locations where they may be carried into deeper water and may not stay afloat
- Don't swim near weirs, locks, pipes and sluices
- Only enter water where there is adequate supervision and rescue cover
- Wear recommended safety equipment - for example life jackets/helmets for canoeing
- Don't jump/dive into open water unless you are sure of the depth and that there are no submerged hazards
- Getting trained in first aid, rescue and resuscitation techniques could save a life
- Ensure children know how to swim and that they do not enter the water alone.
Further information on water safety
Royal Life Saving Society UK - The drowning prevention charity is the UK's leading provider of water safety and drowning prevention education.
The RNLI website is another good source for water safety information. Visit their ‘Respect the Water’ campaign website.
The Royal Society For the Prevention Of Accidents - more information on water safety can be found on the RoSPA website.
The Canal and River Trust also provide summer water advice on their website.