Wednesday 18 October 2017

32 children have died by drowning in 10 years - Irish Water issues warning ahead of school holidays

Brittas Bay
Brittas Bay

Meadhbh McGrath

Irish Water Safety has urged people to take extreme care when swimming with children this summer.

The group has issued the warning following the tragic death of Dublin boy Frank Leonel Mekang (13) in a drowning accident in the River Liffey this weekend.

RogerSweeney, deputy CEO of Irish Water Safety (IWS), Frank's tragic death on Saturday marked the 32nd death of a child under the age of 14 in the past 10 years.

On average, 11 people drown every month in Ireland, with 62pc of drowning occurring in inland waterways and the rest at sea.

IWS has launched training for teachers to encourage primary schools to provide water safety information to pupils.

“Very soon, we’ll have half a million primary school children on holidays, but a lot of them won’t have the knowledge and the behaviours that are necessary to stay safe.”

“Educating our children is key to preventing drownings in the future. We created a primary school syllabus on water safety, but unfortunately it’s not mandatory, so we rely on schoolteachers to take it up," he told independent.ie.

“I know they are very busy, but even if they gave an hour between now and summer holidays, it would mean that the kids would at least have information that could keep them safe,” he said.

“Never take your eye off kids. Kids are naturally curious about water so constant, uninterrupted, responsible supervision is the safest way to avoid these tragedies,”he added.

Read More: 'He could put a smile on anybody's face' - Tributes paid to boy (13) who drowned in River Liffey

Mr Sweeney said entanglement, stranding, dangerous currents and hypothermia as other contributory factors, particularly when people are accustomed to swimming in pools and are unfamiliar with the hazards in open water.

“People need to swim parallel and close to the shore, within their depth and be aware that the water is still cold," he said.

“On either side of a full moon, you’ll have higher tides and equally lower tides than normal, so you’ll have areas that are more exposed at low tide around full moons.”

Statistics from IWS show that men are particularly at risk of drowning, and accounted for 79pc of drownings in 2014.

The risk of drowning increases “dramatically” over bank holiday weekends and during periods of warm weather.

“It’s due to people enjoying the break and the holiday atmosphere, they’re lulled into a false sense of security in these very picturesque surroundings,” he said.

“A lot of people tend to shy away from getting training and then they rush to enjoy the warm weather, but getting trained is very important in advance of going to the water.”

Mr Sweeney said alcohol consumption features in a third of all drownings.

“The reason these things happen is usually because people overestimate their ability and underestimate the risks, and that seems to apply more so with boys than with girls,” he added.

Irish Water Safety's tips on swimming in open water this summer

Do:

  • Maintain constant, uninterrupted, responsible supervision of children
  • Teach children water safety skills as early as possible
  • Swim parallel and close to the shore
  • Swim with others, never alone
  • Follow instructions from a Lifeguard
  • Pay attention to signs on the beach
  • Learn to use water sport equipment before trying it out
  • Always wear a life-jacket when fishing or on boats

Don’t:

  • Swim in strange places
  • Swim just after eating
  • Swim when you’re too hot or tired
  • Swim out after any drifting objects
  • Stay in the water too long
  • Use air mattresses
  • Swim out to sea
  • Allow children to push or jump on others

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