Children under five are at significant risk of death, disability and serious injury from unintentional injury. Public Health England makes a strong argument to focus on tackling the leading, preventable causes of death and serious long-term harm. 

Drowning is one of five principal causes of serious injuries for the under-fives in England. Here we look in more detail at the issue and the steps local authorities and their partners can take.

The scale and nature of the problem

The lethal nature of drowning – 12 deaths a year for the under-fives – means the rate of deaths is very high in comparison to hospital admissions. There are eight admissions for every death. For babies and young children, the main risk is the bath, although the circumstances of a third of deaths caused by drowning and submersion are unspecified. 

Babies and toddlers can drown in as little as 5cm of water. They do not make any noise and do not struggle, but just drown silently, so there is no warning if this is happening.

The links with child development

Babies cannot control their movements so cannot get themselves out of trouble if they slip under the water in the bath. As babies begin to crawl and then walk, they are more likely to explore. While they may have more control over their limbs, they still cannot get themselves out of trouble if they go under the water in the bath or fall into the garden pond. 

Action by local authorities and their partners

PHE shows that injury prevention does not require major new investment – much can be achieved by co-ordinating existing services and programmes, building on strengths and developing capacity. Support and training for the early years workforce is key. 

Injury prevention initiatives can include home safety equipment schemes that supply bath mats and educational campaigns and resources on drowning prevention.

Support from CAPT

CAPT worked closely with PHE to develop the resources and is now offering local authorities evidence-based support for effective action. This includes an opportunity to talk through the PHE guidance and explore local prevention opportunities. To find out more, contact Kevin Lowe on 020 7608 7363.

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Updated September 2014