• Pre-school age children most vulnerable to submersion incidents
  • Highest occurrence in condominium pools

10 March 2016, Singapore: Statistics compiled by the Department of Emergency Medicine at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) on unintentional submersion incidents involving children from the period January 2011 to December 2015 showed an upward trend of submersion incidents with one in ten cases resulting in drowning death. Children of pre-school age are also most vulnerable to submersion injuries, with the data reflecting that more than 76 per cent of those with submersion injuries were children aged six years and below.

As the leading tertiary referral centre for paediatrics, KKH sees the majority of paediatric submersion cases in Singapore. During the five-year period, KKH saw a total of 104 cases of paediatric submersion injuries involving boys at 66.3% and girls at 33.7%. The ages of the victims ranged from infants less than one year old to children as old as 15 years old. There were 10 cases of deaths, and two cases where the children survived their submersion ordeal but suffered hypoxic brain damage, an irreversible condition due to oxygen deprivation to the brain.

The study further showed that more than 50 per cent of the submersion injuries occurred in condominium pools with one in five of the incidents happening during pool parties. In addition, pool party fatalities contributed to half of the total number of drowning deaths in children reported between 2011 and 2015. Other findings from the data gathering showed that 40% of the submersion incidents occurred from Friday to Sunday, between 4pm and 8pm.

“The upward trend of submersion incidents involving children in recent years is disturbing as we know that all these incidents could have been prevented. Drowning deaths can occur within minutes and even if the child survives, there may be permanent brain damage. It only takes a split second for someone to lose their child so there should always be due care and vigilance by a supervising adult whenever a child is in or near water,” said Dr Arif Tyebally, Deputy Head and Consultant, Department of Emergency Medicine, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Recommendations on prevention of submersion incidents involving children

There are ways and precautions parents and adults can take to prevent submersion injuries and keep their children safe. These include:

  • Vigilant supervision with undivided attention given to children in the bath, swimming or when playing near bodies of water
  • Caregivers to be within arm’s length in case of any emergency
  • Extra vigilance during pool parties
  • Presence of lifeguards
  • Timely and effective implementation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Restriction of unsupervised access to bodies of water, for example, four-sided fencing
  • Air-filled or foam toys are not safety devices
  • Keep pails/ buckets empty and turned over when not in use, particularly when there are toddlers in the vicinity

Every life lost to drowning is one death too many. We can all do our part to prevent unintentional drowning deaths and submersion injuries, and help our children stay safe near water.