Everyday activities near water can put you at risk of drowning, so be ‘water aware’

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Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is joining other fire services across the UK and asking people to stay safe when spending time in and around water as the weather begins to improve.

The call comes as part the National Fire Chiefs Council’s Be Water Aware campaign which runs from 25 April – 1 May 2022.

The campaign is warning people of the risk of accidentally drowning when in and around water.

Nearly 50 per cent of people who accidentally drowned in 2020 had no intention of entering the water and few people would think they might become a water incident statistic.

But the fact is that in 2020, far more people died from accidental drowning than cyclists did on the road. Additionally, there were more accidental drownings in 2020 than 2019.

Nationally, in 2020, there were 254 accidental water fatalities, compared with 221 in 2019.

The NFCC Be Water Aware campaign is therefore running its annual campaign again to drive down such water related incidents.

In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, during the ten year period from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2021, there were 804 incidents of rescue or evacuation from water, excluding flooding.

Sadly, there were 46 fatalities within this time period. Those aged 19-24 were most likely to be involved in this type of incident followed by those aged 30-39*.

HWFRS is urging people to avoid complacency when spending time in and around water. The aim is to encourage people to be safe by being aware of the risks.

Many people underestimate the risk of jumping into cold water. In both instances the effects of cold water shock and not knowing how to self rescue can cause even the strongest swimmers to drown.

Even on a warm day the temperature in open water can remain very cold, causing a physical reaction which can make it difficult to control breathing, cause panic and make it difficult to swim.

If you do find yourself in difficulty in the water, don’t panic, fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back in the water and float on your back until the effects of cold water shock pass. Then you can call for help or swim to safety.

If someone is in trouble in water, call 999. At the coast ask for the coastguard. If you are inland, ask for the fire service. You should never enter the water to attempt a rescue.

Dawn Whittaker, NFCC’s lead for drowning prevention said:

“Most people would be shocked to hear that in 2020, 254 lives were lost simply because people were spending time in and around water. These deaths are preventable, so we ask everyone to be water aware.

“NFCC work closely with fire services and partners to encourage people to be safe around water and to highlight the risk of accidental drowning.

“As the weather improves fire services across the country, along with our colleagues in HM Coastguard and RNLI, can be faced with huge numbers of calls to help people in trouble in water.”

The following simple advice may help reduce the 254 drownings reported in 2020.

Fire service advice includes:

  • never swim alone in case you need help.
  • don’t drink alcohol when undertaking water-related activities, it impairs judgement and your ability to swim.
  • avoid walking routes near water if you have been drinking alcohol.
  • don’t dive or jump straight into open water, this can cause potentially fatal cold water shock even on the warmest day.
  • actively supervise children in and around water – drowning can happen fast and silently.
  • if you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, don’t panic, extend your arms and legs out and float on your back until the effects of cold water shock pass.
  • never enter the water to try and rescue someone, call 999 and ask for the Fire Service if inland and the Coastguard if you are at the coast.

Look out for #BeWaterAware on social media for more information and advice.

* (This does not include Over the Border Incidents)