When it comes to water safety, summer is the most dangerous time of the year.
More than 500 Canadians drown every year, many of them children and teenage males. Bruce Andrew, Victoria-based manager of community development for the Canadian Red Cross, said that number is high, especially when many of the fatalities are preventable.
“Children can drown in inches of water. That is one of the dangers they don’t understand that can happen,” he said. “It only takes one mistake and it could be your last mistake. People aren’t taking the risk around water seriously enough.”
A recent report by the Canadian Red Cross documenting 20 years of data between 1991 and 2010 showed 20 per cent of drowning fatalities are children between age one and four unexpectedly falling around water. With children, Andrew said, the key to water safety is parental supervision and life jackets.
“One of the main issues is people are not wearing life jackets or Personal Floatation Devices (PFD). Many lives can be saved, yet people still aren’t doing that. (Also) 80 to 90 per cent of drownings on boats happen when people are not wearing one.”
A sense of fun in the water lets people’s guard down, Andrew said. Because of that, many don’t heed posted warnings or acknowledge the potential dangers around water, either for themselves or family members.
Regardless of one’s ability to swim, many risk factors can take that ability away.
“In cold water, it doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are, hypothermia sets in in four to five minutes and you don’t have the ability to swim. The water can be a dangerous place,” he said.
“It is a fine line. Water is such a unique environment. You can have so much fun in water and you don’t want to discourage (the public) from using that, but they need to understand when they need to be safe and understand the dangers there.”
He encourages people to go out on the water and enjoy themselves.
At the same time, he advises to be especially careful of fun and sun masking potentially dangerous situations. Those can include accidental slips or falls, an issue exacerbated by water making surfaces more slippery than normal.
“There are so many preventable drownings,” he said. “You have to treat the water with respect, because it can be a dangerous situation.”