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Three unexpected drowning hazards found around the house

Wednesday 22 November 2017

A toddler stands outside over two buckets and a watering can, she pours water from a smaller bucket into one of the larger buckets.
Children should always be supervised when playing with water, even with smaller containers like buckets.

Drowning is the most common form of accidental death in children aged 0 to 5 in Australia, with almost half of those deaths associated with pools. This means that big, immersive bodies of water tend to loom in our consciousness when considering potential hazards, making it easy to overlook some of the other drowning hazards around the home.

The Royal Life Saver Society Queensland catalogues a number of household water sources associated with drowning in their Home Water Safety fact sheet [PDF 225KB]. While it includes a number of the usual suspects - pools, spas, rivers, drains - there are also entries that might catch you by surprise.

Eskies

Here are four things worth considering when you look at your esky.

  1. The ice will eventually melt into slushy water.
  2. It's going to see a lot of use at your party, and not everyone will secure the lid properly when they're done.
  3. Eskies are frequently stored at ground level, within easy reach of curious toddlers, but are often out of sight.
  4. Most social gatherings where you're breaking out the esky have a tendency to distract the adults in the immediate vicinity.

If you don't think that adds up to a potentially hazardous combination for a toddler, you might want to think again.

An open esky on a green lawn in the sun, full of ice and beers.

Pet Food Bowls

It's not the most common place for toddlers to drown, but it isn't unheard of for young children to drown in the water bowl of the family pet.

It's an entry that really brings home the reality of the warning that it takes as little as 5cm of water to drown a child, and as little as 30 seconds for it to happen. A mostly-full water bowl for your pet meets the depth requirements, and placing it within easy reach of Fluffy also puts it in reach of your children.

Buckets

The first two entries on this list are relative rarities when you look at the statistics, but half-full buckets are a fairly significant hazard. Nappy buckets, buckets used for washing, watering the garden or cleaning the car, and collections of grey water all pose a drowning risk for young children.

A small child crouches over a bucket of bubbly water and squeezes out a cleaning cloth.

So why are these seemingly innocuous items such a threat?

There are a couple of reasons, which start with the naturally curious nature of young children just starting to walk and explore their environment.

It's also a matter of physical development - a toddler's head is heavier than the rest of their body, which means they can easily topple into a container they're exploring.

Toddlers under 4 are less likely to struggle or cry out than older children, which means they can drown before anyone realises there's something wrong.

A toddler reaches up and over the side of a large, inflatable pool that is full of water.

How to prevent drowning accidents

So what can you do to prevent drownings?

Always supervise children constantly when they are in, on or around water. This means constant visual supervision – literally keeping an eye on them – not using your phone or cooking dinner and checking in every so often.

Don’t leave containers or collections of water around the house or yard that children could access. This includes buckets, clam pools, bathtubs, sinks, eskies and fish tanks. Remember: 5cm of water is not very much, but it’s enough to cover a small child’s face. Tip out any held water or move the container to a place your child definitely cannot reach.

Make sure pools, spas, fish ponds, bird baths, water features and water tanks are securely covered and/or fenced and that there isn’t any furniture, ladders, trellises or tree branches children could climb to access the water.

Help children learn water survival skills and water confidence by taking them to swimming lessons or teaching them to swim.

When at the beach, teach your children how to enjoy the water safely.

Never leave an older child (under 16) responsible for supervising a younger child or children.

Learn how to perform CPR – family are often the first person on the scene in a drowning emergency. Learning how to respond in an emergency and perform CPR if necessary could save a life.

A group of adults at a first aid training course sit on the floor while the instructor shows them how to perform CPR on a model baby.

More resources

Find more information about preventing drownings at the links below.

Raising Children

Royal Life Saver Society Queensland

Surf Life Saving Queensland

Last updated: 11 December 2017