The Dangers of Water – SHEilds Health and Safety Blog

A safety risk which hides in plain sight

Hello there, Ted Sturgeon here, and this week I am mostly thinking about summer. That, and a safety risk which hides in plain sight.

The year is now well under way, summer is trying to make an appearance and the mind starts to think about all the summer outdoor activities we’ve been looking forward to throughout the long winter.

One of the biggest free attractions for summer cooling and fun is water.

When I was a kid, there were numerous public information films that, as children, we were forced to watch just before the school summer holidays.

Some of these were pretty scary, but non more-so than the 1973 production by the Central Office of Information – ‘Lonely Water’.

This short film has stayed with me to this day; it was narrated by Donald Pleasence, the narration taking the part of the Grim Reaper observing children playing by water.

If any of you grew up in the UK and are old enough to remember. “Ill be back ack ack ack ack”, then you know exactly which film I am talking about. And if not (or you just wish to relive childhood trauma) I have included this link to the film so you too can see what made the kids of the 70’s the people they are today.

We all know the dangers of water (or should), we all know that unless we have gills (and most humans don’t, incidentally… Unless you are Patrick Duffy), we cannot breathe water! And that is the top and bottom of this blog – HUMANS CANNOT BREATHE WATER (in case you didn’t know).

That looks like an obvious statement, but as the above film is trying to point out, if we are careless or less thoughtful than we could be, water is a very dangerous substance. Accidents do happen, but if we take the best precautions we can, the risk of these can be dramatically lessened.

A few basic pointers and statistics

Considering a few basic pointers and statistics on the subject; many of us will have heard about not going into the water after a large meal, and although nowadays this has been disputed, the risk of muscle cramps is still real, and swimming with a full stomach is not a particularly pleasant experience.

This does link me to the other point I was going to make about food and drink and swimming. According to the CDC, and I quote, so as not to be misunderstood, ‘Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70% of deaths that occur during water recreation’. It may seem obvious (again) but if you want to stay out of any kind of statistic like this, don’t drink alcohol before going swimming, no matter how good an idea it seems at the time (and we all have the best and greatest ideas when we’re drunk… don’t we?).

If you have children who want to play in the water, it again seems obvious, but keeping a close eye on them and their antics will allow you to respond quickly if they get into any difficulty.

Some key statistics from the ‘Royal Life Saving Society UK’ are:

  • Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in children, in the UK.
  • Over 700 people drown in the UK and Ireland every year – equivalent to one person drowning every 20 hours.
  • Hundreds more have near-drowning experiences, sometimes suffering life-changing injuries.

I’m not really one for drumming out statistics, but I felt these drew attention to what I was intending on covering when starting this blog. And if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, I mention there are hundreds of websites that will give you all the statistics you need relating to this subject.

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An example of how quickly water hazards can develop

Another water risk when on holiday that remain a danger are pedalos and these kind of large water toys.

For this I will have to dig into another childhood memory as an example of how quickly water hazards can develop.

Once, while on a family holiday to Rhodes, my Mother and I decided it would be a great idea to hire a pedalo for an hour, but not one of the standard pedalos, this was one of the big floating 3 wheel types, like a water trike.

Everything was going swimmingly (pun intended) until we realised we were drifting on these very buoyant wheels. We peddled harder and harder, but still we kept drifting away from the shore on the tide. The problem was the trike itself, it was belt driven, so as we peddled the belt was slipping in the water and not actually turning the wheels. A group of guys on a pedalo (the standard type) saw we were drifting and came to assist. Two of the guys pulled the front wheel of the trike onto their pedalo, while the other two peddled frantically.

We continued to drift as the buoyancy and drift of our trike overpowered the attempts of the guys and now 6 of us were drifting out to sea… by this point we were a few miles out and heading rapidly towards Turkey (and of course we didn’t have our passports).

Luckily for us, and I mean luckily, we were all spotted drifting by a local fishing boat who came to our aid. They threw a rope to the guys on the pedalo who tied it on and all four of them were clinging on to our trike with all their strength. We were all towed to the safety of the local harbour and for us at least, the adventure was over. We said our thanks and goodbyes and from what I remember carried on as though nothing had happened.

I’m sure it was all over the local papers of how these fishermen were heroes… and they really were! So, if by any miracle of a chance any of the Geordie guys involved (or indeed, the fishermen) are reading this and remember the incident… Cheers again guys!!!  I’m still here. Thanks to you!

Stay safe

I think what this illustrates is that no matter how safe you think these things can be, there is always something that can go wrong. We drifted so quickly that by the time we realised it had happened we were already a mile from the shore. Another thing I remember is how cold it got the further out to sea we drifted.

Like a lot of things in this world, danger and fun go hand in hand, I have written blogs about how, if things don’t have the element of danger, they are not fun and it’s the danger and risk that makes them fun; my perfect examples being roller coasters, theme parks and fun fairs.

We were not looking to thrill seek, we were looking for a relaxing ride on the sea, but even this turned into a bit of a nightmare, that I must add if it hadn’t been for the Pedalo guys and the fishermen, could easily have been another headline that someone else is now remembering and writing a blog about.

Water is fun, it’s cool and refreshing, it is also a danger.

From back garden paddling pools, through community swimming pools to rivers, lakes and the sea, the risks and outcomes remain the same. The cause of the worst outcome is always the same ‘HUMANS CANNOT BREATHE WATER’ whether it be the water in a paddling pool or the ocean itself.

I have not covered all the dangers of water and swimming and tides and undercurrents, etc. here, and would probably never be able to cover all the dangers individually – you can find detailed point-by-point guidance on water safety here – but hopefully, I have planted the ‘safety seed’ in your minds that will make you think about how you behave when you and your loved ones are around water.

On that note I hope you all have a great and safe summer, keep an eye on them kids near water, keep an eye on yourself and consider how you behave around water (this also sets an example for the kids).

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Grim Reaper in ‘Lonely Water’…… “Sensible children… I have no power over them”!

Stay safe!

 

Ted Sturgeon

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