Silent Drowning

Date Added 24.06.16

Holiday season is upon us again and families with their children will be heading off for well-earned breaks in the sun. Whether it is a hotel, the beach or private villa, it is pretty certain that there will be water involved. Whether water park, pool, sea, lake or river, they all offer silent danger as well as fun.

Sadly on 16th June 2016 we saw the Mail online reported that a toddler, 2, drowned in the private rented villa that his family were holidaying in.

In the US 200 children die in swimming pools each summer, the majority of whom are under 5. In the UK there were a total of 338 water-related deaths from accidents or natural causes in 2014.

Did you know? Small children can actually drown without having ever broken the surface of the water at all.

You’d think that the lifeguards on duty, vigilant and trained to spot people in trouble would be alerted to anyone drowning with arms waving and splashing as they come up and fall below the water.

People don’t drown the way they do in the movies.

The key message is that the involuntary drowning response is quiet. Here is a story of what really happens.

“The captain jumped into the water and raced towards a couple treading water.

They both tried to wave him away as they were fine. But he swam straight past them and grabbed their 9 yr old daughter. Just a few feet away, she was drowning. The parents had no idea she was in trouble. The captain lifted her head clear of the water before the little girl burst into tears and cried for her Daddy. The little girl was seconds away from disappearing silently below the surface for good”

Lifeguards should be trained and extra vigilant for this silent killer but all too often the signs are missed or spotted too late with fatalities or severe brain damage due to oxygen starvation, in a matter of minutes.

Drowning doesn’t look like the stereotypical splashing and yelling. People don’t drown the way they do on TV and in movies. It can happen in many different ways and situations.

  • Swimmers often have a phase of distress as they realise they are exhausted. They can possibly still call for help or find something to grab. But studies of events found that the instinctive drowning response makes it unlikely that the victim will scream and flail around. Whether swimmer or non-swimmer, once the drowning process starts, the victim will be able to struggle at the surface for only a matter of seconds before sinking for good. They may appear to be treading water, but it doesn’t look like ‘Help, I’m drowning!’
  • Silent drowning can strike almost immediately simply by stepping into deep water. They don’t have the skill and immediately their airway is compromised. In one instance an adult non-swimmer sank to the bottom of the deep end at a works pool party. To his horror, he realised he couldn’t get back to the surface. Fortunately, a colleague spotted that he had been at the bottom of the pool a worryingly long time and dragged him up before he drowned.

So, what can you do to make sure you don’t end up in a rescue situation?

1.    Give children your undivided attention. You have to be looking at them to be watching them. You can’t do anything else. No texting, chatting, playing. Sounds extreme but you can’t do these things and still be watching.

2.    Choose a “water watcher.” First mum then dad or if there is a group of you take a card, watch for 15 minutes, and then hand the card off to the next water watcher.

3.    Do what the lifeguards are trained to do and apply the “10-20 rule”. This is that you should scan the pool every 10 seconds and be within 20 seconds of getting into the water if there’s a problem.

Signs of “silent drowning” often missed:

  • Gasping. Someone drowning can rarely call out for help. Physiologically, voluntary action has disappeared; the brain is concentrating entirely on clearing the airway to maintain its supply of oxygen. All you will hear is gasping which is quiet.
  • Bobbing. A victim may rise above the surface and drop below it and the nose and mouth aren’t above the water long enough to expel air and water, inhale and shout for help — quietly. This is common with children who are non-swimmers, they rarely go through a distress phase and go straight to the bobbing instinctive drowning response.
  • Floating face down. Call for help if you see someone floating face down for more than a few seconds.
  • Take quick action. At a pool,  you can take effective action even if you aren’t trained in rescue. If a 4-year-old is drowning in a metre of water, jump in and grab them.  If the water is deeper, call the lifeguard and look for something that floats. There’s always something that floats at the pool.”
  • Alert lifeguards right away

Tollers specialist personal injury lawyer Tristan Holdom and his legal team were successful recently in the High Court against a local authority run swimming pool in Northampton when a young boy suffered a serious brain injury partially drowning after being under the water for around two minutes and 40 seconds

The Judge ruled that the lifeguards, then council employees, should have seen the boy slip underwater, as lifeguards are required to scan their particular area of a pool every 10 seconds.

This is an example of how silent drowning can happen and why lifeguards should remain vigilant at all times operating the industry-standard 10:20 scanning.

There are instances when swimming is at your own risk however, whoever is responsible for the water that you jump into, dive or swim in has a duty of care to protect you. If this duty is breached due to negligent lifeguarding, lack of signage etc. you could have a claim for compensation. At Tollers our main priority is to prevent accidents from happening, please read our water safety article. If you do fall victim to an accident in water that was due to negligence please contact us on 0333 414 9123.

We are not personal injury lawyers by accident.

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