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Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service Supports World Drowning Prevention Day

Over 90 per cent of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells, domestic water storage vessels and swimming pools in low- and middle-income countries.

To help raise public awareness around water safety, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) is supporting several national and international campaigns, including World Drowning Prevention Day, which occurs on the 25 July each year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 236,000 lives are lost to drowning every year. That’s almost 650 every day, 26 every hour in what is referred to as a silent epidemic of preventable deaths. This is an under-estimate since it does not include lives lost to drowning from transport-related accidents or flood-related drowning deaths.

To mark this year’s World Drowning Prevention Day, WHO will continue to focus on raising awareness of drowning as a public health issue, reminding people that anyone can drown, but no one should.

UK and Berkshire data

The latest UK figures from the Water Incident Database (WAID), which is maintained by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), indicate there were 226 accidental fatalities in 2022; 105 of them occurred during the summer months of June, July and August. Of that, 226, 151 of them were in England; 45 in Scotland; 22 in Wales; 8 in Northern Ireland.

Last year, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service responded to 36 water rescue incidents involving people getting into difficulty in Berkshire’s waterways – an increase of 50 per cent since 2020. Of those, 42 per cent of incidents occurred in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead – the highest number throughout Berkshire – followed by 28 per cent in Reading. Over the last five years, there have been 148 water rescue incidents in Berkshire.  

Water safety education

RBFRS is delivering several water safety initiatives throughout the County, including providing advice at local community events and fire station open days, throw-line demonstrations, water safety education to primary and secondary school children, stepping up multi-agency patrols in known high-risk areas and providing face-to-face advice to people taking part in leisure activities close to or in the water.

Commenting on the issue of drowning and water safety, Neil Whiteman, Community Safety Advisor, RBFRS, said: “Drowning is an issue that affects every nation of the world. Therefore, we are urging people to take care around Berkshire’s waterways this year.

“Following tragic deaths in the water over the last few years we are working with our partners in the Thames Valley, to warn and inform residents of how to stay safe by the water and ensuring vital water safety messaging reaches schools, leisure centres and members of our communities.”

Jess James, Area Manager Prevention and Protection, RBFRS said: “According to the World Health Organisation, drowning is a serious and neglected public health threat claiming the lives of over 370,000 people a year worldwide.

“Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is playing its part in helping to raise awareness of this issue by ensuring our communities understand that drowning is preventable. Knowing how to keep ourselves and our families safe when we are in, around or on the water is just one important step in helping to reduce the number of water-related incidents in our County. This is why we’re working closely with other emergency services, the Environment Agency, local authorities, leisure centres and schools to promote water safety messaging throughout the year.”

Lucy Herd from Wokingham has first-hand experience of losing a child after her toddler son Jack, aged 23 months, tragically drowned in a garden pond in 2010. She said: “As a mum, my world died the day Jack died. It was every mother’s worst nightmare. I took my eyes off Jack for those split moments and he wandered away from my protection.”

Following Jack’s death Lucy launched a campaign for paid parental bereavement leave to be made a legal right – with Jack’s Law finally coming into force in 2020. Lucy now works as a Grief and Trauma Specialist helping people who are grieving and runs a community group called ‘Grief and a Cuppa’ to ensure ‘no one grieves alone’.

WHO interventions

The World Health Organisation has laid out six evidence-based solutions that can be implemented to prevent drowning:

  • Installing barriers controlling access to water;
  • Providing safe places away from water for preschool children, with capable childcare;
  • Teaching basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills, including to school-age children;
  • Training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation;
  • Setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations, including the wearing of personal flotation devices; and
  • Building resilience and managing flood risks and other hazards.

Advice from RBFRS

  • A child can drown in a small amount of water. Check the garden for water containers where water might have collected – make sure they are empty and upturned.
  • Make sure water butts are covered and secure.
  • If you use a paddling pool in warm weather make sure you fully empty when you’ve finished playing and never leave children unsupervised while using it.
  • Keep a close eye on the bathtub when you are filling it and empty it as soon as you’ve finished bathing.
  • Make sure your family is first aid trained and knows what to do in the event of an accident.
  • Young children must be actively supervised. This can be especially important when several adults are present, please don’t assume someone will spot a wandering child.

Further information about water safety can be found on the RBFRS website.