Drownings are the leading cause of death for Australian children under 5 years old. While pool fencing restricts access to a pool and plays a major role in preventing drownings, many accidental drownings still occur due to a lack of supervision. Parents need to keep watch, especially in light of a number shallow water blackout deaths where children have fainted after holding their breath underwater for extended periods. Parents that supervise are able to spot these blackouts in time to perform CPR. However, if children are not closely supervised, when their lungs fill with water after a blackout it can quickly be too late.
What Is Shallow Water Blackout?
Hypoxic blackout, also known as 'shallow water blackout', is a result of the brain being deprived of oxygen, leading to loss of consciousness. SWB is most often caused as a result of swimming consecutive laps underwater or swimmers testing to see how long they can stay submerged. Many victims may not experience a warning trigger to let them know to take a breath, often because of they have a detached mental state due to lack of oxygen to the brain.
It's a dangerous scenario. This mental state often makes them feel euphoric or empowered to continue holding their breath. When oxygen falls to critical levels, blackout is instantaneous and without warning. Eventually the body involuntarily triggers a breathing response, causing lungs to fill with water and an eventual drowning. Unless being closely supervised and watched, a blackout can be difficult to detect above the water in enough time to apply CPR.
Who Does SWB Affect?
SWB can affect all swimmers in all bodies of water up to 5 metres in depth but is most common in backyard pools. Both experienced and non-experienced swimmers of all ages have died from shallow water blackout. The risk of SWB is heightened if swimmers are exhausted,or have expended lots of energy. In January 2015, Brisbane father and experienced swimmer Seth Beckman died in his brother's pool after practising holding his breath for extended periods in the lead up to a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef. This followed the well-publicised story of 12-year-old Jack McMillan, who died after swimming underwater lengths of his backyard pool.
How Pool Fencing And Pool Supervision Saves Lives
Pool fencing is mandatory for all pool owners in Australia. Regular safety inspections are essential in many states to ensure the fencing and pool barriers continue to comply with height and design and maintenance specifications. They also impose standards relating to access to the pool area and ensuring there are not means that small children could enter area. Inspecting gate latches and observing if there could be other ways to access the pool area are ways safety inspectors assess the compliance of the pool area and fencing. For more information, contact a fencing specialist like Standrite Australia Pty Ltd.
Also, in the last 10 years, campaigns like "KIDS ALIVE DO THE FIVE" have raised awareness to the public of the importance of maintaining pool fencing, as well as general pool safety including the risks of shallow water blackout. Government legislation has also made a positive impact. However, safety experts agree that the most reliable way to prevent drownings is constant supervision. Sadly, for the families of victims who often drowned in unsupervised settings, they can only wish that things had of been different.