Drowning warning from Sussex expert as cases rise in UK heatwave
Deaths by drowning in the UK are still rising because people are unaware of the dangers of water, according to an expert from Sussex.
It comes as there were 12 separate fatal incidents across the UK this week amid July heatwave.
And a recent report by the National Water Safety Water Forum, chaired by boss of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Dawn Whittaker, revealed there were 254 accidental drownings in the country in 2020, which has increased by 31 on the previous year.
A drowning-prevention expert is now calling on government to increase water safety education in schools.
University of Chichester academic Dr Jenny Smith, who is one of the world’s 36 leading women on drowning-prevention, is calling for water safety to be enhanced in the curriculum.
She said: “Up to 45 per cent of deaths are of people who weren’t intending to be in the water in the first place – walking near cliffs or walking home after a night-out.
“Sadly, children are overrepresented in the drowning statistics, and education is vital to informing young people about the hazards in and around water.
“Learning to swim as young as possible and constant supervision is integral, but there is limited information on water safety on the curriculum – that needs to change.”
Up to 235,600 worldwide deaths are caused by water each year, according to the World Health Organisation.
It also estimates that drowning accounts for a greater loss of life annually than maternal mortality or malnutrition.
Lee Heard, the charity director of the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK), said the key to safety is not about staying away from water but enjoying it safely.
He added: “RLSS UK research shows that over 55 per cent of parents said they would not be confident their child would know what to do if they fell into open water – and that’s why we are campaigning to enhance water safety in the national curriculum.
“Drowning does not discriminate and nor should our approach to water safety education but as we’ve seen from the tragic deaths in the last week, drowning affects people at all ages.”
Many people across the country are scared of water according to a 2016 report into aquaphobia by Dr Smith and RLSS UK, which revealed:
- More than 8million people in the UK have a fear of water
- 18million in the UK cannot swim more than 25 metres
- 12.9million in the UK are afraid to take part in any form of swimming
Campaigner Beckie Ramsay BEM tragically lost her son to drowning when he was just 13.
She was recently invited to parliament after the petition she launched, to include the dangers of cold-water shock and rip-currents on the curriculum, receiving more than 100,000 signatures.
She said: “The government really took on board what I had to say and, although the outcome wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear – that they had no thought to change the curriculum - they did leave the door open for future discussions.
“Without having adequate water safety on the curriculum, we continue to be a nation uneducated on the dangers of water.
“These need to be life-long reminders that start at primary school, because that’s the ground-level where everyone learns new things, and then up through school and into the workplace.”
Dr Jenny Smith, together with RLSS UK and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, is now developing lifeguard-training modules to improve safety at UK pools and beaches.