Safety in and around water
Water is a common source of accidents, but with a little care and attention most accidents and injuries in and around water can be avoided.
Although fatalities from drowning declined in the UK in the late 1990s, 420 adults and children died in this way in 2001. Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children under the age of 16. Water-borne infections may also be a danger.
Preventing drowning and near-drowning
The situations that most often result in drowning or near-drowning are strong currents or very cold water and swimming or boating after drinking alcohol.
Understanding water conditions
Even confident swimmers should always get information about local swimming conditions and heed advice that is given.
Avoid swimming in very cold water. Water below 5°C (41°F) stiffens muscles and may cause cardiac arrest.
More than one-third of victims of drowning accidents have a significant amount of alcohol in their blood (see Alcohol and health). Never drink alcohol before swimming or boating.
Do not leave young children alone when they are swimming or in the bath. If you have a pond or swimming pool in your garden, fence it off or cover it.
Avoiding hazards in water
Drowning is not the only hazard associated with water. Shallow water, hidden objects, marine and freshwater animals, and infections all present dangers.
Shallow water and hidden objects
Every year, thousands of people injure their spines by diving into water that is too shallow or that contains hidden objects. Check the depth of water before diving or jumping, and check for rocks or fallen trees below the surface.
Animal life and infections
On holiday, follow warnings about local dangers, such as sharks, and swim only in designated safe areas. Coral can cause cuts and abrasions.
The sea near coastal resorts may be polluted with sewage. Freshwater contaminated with rat or fox urine can cause a potentially fatal infection called leptospirosis. In tropical countries, avoid swimming in lakes or other bodies of fresh water (unless they are known to be safe) as there is a risk of schistosomiasis and other water-borne parasitic infections.
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