Home Blogs Experts warn of drowning as cases rise in UK heatwave

Experts warn of drowning as cases rise in UK heatwave

  • Deaths by drowning increased by 12.2 per cent in 2020
  • 12 separate fatal incidents across the UK this week amid July heatwave
  • Drowning-prevention experts now calling on government to increase water safety education in national curriculum


DEATHS by drowning in the UK are still rising because people are unaware of the dangers of water, according to a team of experts.

The warning follows a recent report from the National Water Safety Water Forum and Water Incidence Database that revealed 254 accidental drownings in 2020, an increased of 31 on the previous year. In the last week alone, 12 people across the UK died in separate incidents in open water.

Researcher Dr Jenny Smith, from the University of Chichester, is part of a team 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. Our research shows that experienced lifeguards are very good at identifying hazards in and around the water and it is for this reason that we advocate using facilities that have lifeguards present.”

Dr Smith, who is one of the world’s 36 leading women in drowning prevention, added: “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.”


Drowning accounts for 235,600 worldwide deaths each year

Calls to improve awareness in the UK around the dangers in and around water are part of the World Health Organisation’s first ever drowning-prevention day, on Sunday 25 July.

The internationally-recognised event was declared by the UN in April to highlight the tragic impact of drowning on families, with an estimated 235,600 worldwide deaths by water each year. Records from the WHO estimate 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: “We live on an island with water everywhere, surrounded by opportunities to be in or near water. Whatever your age and activity level, everyone should be having fun, creating memories and feeling at ease around the water.

“Yet RLSS UK research shows that one in three of those surveyed said their swimming abilities limited the activities they could do, and 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. Our campaign ‘Don’t Drink and Drown’ offers support and advice on making the correct decision around water safety, to those high-risk adults and their peers, who might go out for a few drinks and accidentally fall into the water, making sure everyone returns home safely.”


More than 8million people in the UK have a fear of water

Many people across the UK are scared of water according to a 2016 report by Dr Smith and RLSS UK into aquaphobia across the UK. The results 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 Dylan 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.”


Find out more

Dr Jenny Smith, together with RLSS UK and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), is now developing lifeguard-training modules to improve safety at UK pools and beaches.

She and the members of the drowning-prevention team are hosting an Ask Me Anything talk on Reddit on Sunday 25 July – which can be viewed at www.twitter.com/drjennysmith.

For more about the WHO’s drowning-prevention day go to www.who.int/campaigns/world-drowning-prevention-day/2021 or read about the Royal Life Saving Society’s water-safety initiatives at www.rlss.org.uk.

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