Warm weather and the inevitability of accidental drowning

When warm weather returns to the UK, the issues surrounding water safety inevitably return too. Why inevitably? Well, we simply see the same thing every year: incidents of water rescue and tragic accidental drowning across mainstream news and social media. In fact, it’s approaching a year since we tragically witnessed a spate of drowning in the north west of England when five unfortunate individuals lost their lives in the space of week at the end of June 2019.

Words: Stuart Glover, Marketing Manager, Reach and Rescue Ltd.

That’s not to undermine the strong work of water safety campaigners, including the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) in their #BeWaterAware campaign. Indeed, the most recent drowning statistics from the NFCC indicate cause for cautious optimism, with a 30% decrease in accidental drowning since 2016 when the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy was launched. No doubt this reduction is helped in part by organisations such as The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) through its water rescue training for businesses within the locale of public waterways. In most cases staff are equipped with emergency throwlines as part of the training scheme too. This work is in tandem with the Canal and River Trust who are actively re-modelling public waterways by installing barriers, signage and our very own Portsafe, to make these areas safer. Still, worryingly, now the warm summer months have returned we’re seeing the same cycle of news.

Late May through early June 2020 saw a variety of incidents: two men sadly drowned in the River Avon in Bath and a young teacher died while swimming in a river in Leeds. Plus, public safety warnings for swimmers in ‘probably the most dangerous water in the UK’ were published in Derbyshire while anti-social revellers took a dip in Exeter Quay. All within the space of a few days.

The issues in Exeter Quay are seen across the nation. Indeed, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has worked with pubs and restaurants surrounding the quay to supply emergency throwlines alongside water rescue training for staff. However, when the UK is in lockdown, these businesses are closed and with it a chance for them to participate in a rescue. Furthermore, unfortunately, a number of fire stations across the UK – including stations in Devon and Somerset – are not water rescue trained. A station not trained for water rescue would not be able to enter the water to save a life should the need arise.

This begs the question: who will save the lives of the swimmers in the quay should the worst happen?

This phrase bears repeating: drowning causes more accidental deaths than fire or cycling. What the stories shared in this article demonstrate is that there isn’t a randomness to drowning. The risks are identifiable and therefore preventable. Solutions to eradicate the issue of water safety should appear in every regional fire and rescue authority’s integrated risk management plan. If it doesn’t, why not? It is down to elected members at a regional level to demand an answer to this question.

This article aims to provide a strong case for improving public water safety further by preventing falls into the water in addition to focusing on increasing the possibility of rescue through the provision of fit-for-purpose public rescue equipment. The warnings printed on public access water rescue systems – such as Reach and Rescue’s Portsafe – offer a highly visible community reassurance while also giving 24/7 access to effective water rescue equipment that will save a life.

For more information on Reach and Rescue’s innovative water rescue equipment, head here.