Prevention of drowning

What you need to do

If people must work over or in the vicinity of water or any other liquid, there must be measures in place to prevent a fall into it, and if need be, effect a safe rescue.

Safe systems of work, training, emergency procedures and properly maintained equipment are necessary to be able to respond effectively in an emergency.

Key aspects of preventing drowning include:

What you need to know

The most immediate danger following a fall into water (or other liquid) is drowning. This can be caused by:

  • shock of sudden immersion in cold water
  • weight of saturated clothing
  • incapacity following injury caused by striking an object during the fall or while in the water or liquid
  • fatigue or hypothermia where rescue is not immediate.

Preventing a fall

Erect barriers of sufficient strength and stability to stop people from falling into the water or liquid from an open edge.

Consideration should be given to either covering the surface or draining the water or liquid either partially or fully. However, a risk of fall from height may remain and this must also be controlled.

Raising the alarm

There should be an obvious means to raise the alarm if someone has fallen into water or liquid. It may be advisable to provide whistles and lights, such as those found on life jackets, to help anyone who may have fallen to let their rescuers know where they are.

Keeping afloat

Provide life jackets to those at risk. They should ideally be auto-inflating and always worn. They are designed to support an unconscious person in water and turn them face upwards. It is essential that anyone who needs to wear a life jacket is trained in its use.

Buoyancy aids can be used, but they may not turn an unconscious person over from a face-down position.

Grab and throw lines

A grab line can be tensioned downstream of the work site across flowing water. It should be at 45 degrees to the flow, with the end furthest downstream connected to the bank with easiest access allowing the swimmer to be washed to the downstream end as they hit the line.

For use in moving water such as rivers, a throw line needs to be 8-12mm diameter for ease of handling, brightly coloured and able to float to avoid entanglement on the riverbed or anything else below the surface. If the pull on the throw line is too great the rescuer should walk down the bank recovering or releasing the line to avoid the possibility of the rescuer being pulled into the water. A tied or snagged line may have the effect of submerging the person in the water if the current is fast.

Rescue boats

A rescue boat with a competent operator should be designed so that it is easy to pull a casualty from the water into the boat. The type of boat should be suitable for the work being carried out, type of water and any currents. It may be necessary to have more than one person in the boat to allow for it to be manoeuvred whilst the rescue is carried out.

To be effective, these precautions need to be maintained. People need to know what to do in an emergency and how to raise the alarm.

Travel by boat

Any boat used to convey people by water to or from a place of work should be of suitable construction, properly maintained, under the control of a competent person and not be either overcrowded or overloaded.

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