Oxfordshire fire crews issue water safety advice

Cold water shock

Water safety advice is being issued by Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, concerned that hot weather will tempt people into rivers and lakes to stay cool.

Drowning in the UK is amongst the leading causes of accidental death. There were seven water-related fatalities in Oxfordshire between 2017-2018.

Residents are being warned about the potential risks of open water, how to stay safe; and what to do if someone gets into trouble in the water.

Lee Swain, Safety Manager for Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, said: “As firefighters, we don’t want to stop people enjoying our waters, but we do want to ensure they understand the dangers and behave as safely as possible.”

Even on a warm day, the temperature of a body of open water can remain very cold. Jumping into water can result in a cold-shock response.

Lee explains: “You gasp for air. Meaning that you could breathe in water. You hyperventilate. This over-breathing can make you light-headed and, as your brain is deprived of oxygen, you may become disoriented.

“Your body’s cold shock response, which speeds up the heart rate, may conflict with the diving response, which does the opposite, causing your heart to go into abnormal rhythms which can cause sudden death.”

Anyone witnessing someone in trouble in the water should call 999 or 112 and shout for help. They shouldn’t enter the water themselves; instead throw something in that floats. The advice is for a person in trouble to float on their back, not try to swim.

Oxfordshire County Council Fire and rescue Service advises that:

  • Reservoirs, lakes, rivers and other inland water may look safe and inviting, particularly on a warm day. But there are hidden dangers below the surface that could make people ill, cause injury; even kill.
  • Even on a warm day, the temperature of the water in a reservoir, quarry or lake can remain very cold. The low water temperature can numb limbs and claim lives.
  • From the surface, it’s not always possible to see what’s under the water. This could be anything from large rocks to machinery; from shopping trolleys to branches, and even fish hooks or broken fishing line, all of which could cause injury.
  • Moving water, such as rivers, might look calm but there could be strong currents below the surface. Even reservoirs have currents, caused by working machinery. Whether or not someone’s a strong swimmer, currents can carry them into danger.

Across the UK, around 400 people drown needlessly every year and thousands more suffer injury, some life changing, through near-drowning experiences.

One person dies from drowning every 20 hours in the UK. Drowning is also the third highest cause of accidental death of children in the UK.

Oxfordshire is criss-crossed by rivers, streams, canals. Activities that are known to lead to the highest number of fatalities are walking, running, swimming, jumping or diving in.

Lee continues: “A simple change to our behaviour can reduce the risk of drowning. Knowing how to respond quickly, safely and appropriately can help save lives.

“The advice is to expect the unexpected when you’re in the water. The shock of cold water will make your muscles become weaker; you may not be able to keep yourself afloat or pull yourself out. Your body will shiver, which will affect your coordination and your swimming ability.

“Respect the water, even if you’re a good swimmer and familiar with the river, lake or reservoir. Be water aware.”

For further information, visit the website: http://www.365alive.co.uk/cms/content/swimming-open-water

Twitter users can find out more at #BeWaterAware