David Fielding, Chairman of Avon & North Wiltshire Branch, is today’s guest blogger. He is talking about the presentation he gave yesterday at the Faculty of Pre-Hospital Care, South West, ‘What’s New in Drowning?’ event. Here he has shared with us what he covered in his presentation as well as an overview of what Paul Savage (RNLI’s Clinical Operations Manager), the main presenter, covered.

Paul gave an engaging presentation about the latest research into drowning, using a real-life case study, of a casualty on the Thames who “leant on a handrail that wasn’t there” and fell off a Thames cruiser, to explore a casualty’s physiological responses to cold water.

Paul talked about the difference between submersion and immersion and the stages of true drowning, where casualties will hold their breath, swallow water, cough, and then “breath” water for circa 70 seconds. Paul then talked about cold shock and the body’s response in the first 0-3 minutes of immersion in water below 25 Deg Celsius, extremity cooling, which occurs in the 3-30 minutes as the arms and legs cool down leading to “swim failure” and an inability to perform lifesaving tasks such as launching a flare or climbing into a life-raft. Followed by hypothermia, which interestingly, Paul explained how UK water temperatures are not cold enough to lead to true hypothermia in less than circa 45 minutes.

Paul then talked about post-immersion collapse and how to prevent it, and the conflict between the mammalian dive reflex and the cold-shock response, which may result in heart failure in some casualties.

Following on from Paul I gave a 15 minute presentation on what RLSS Avon & North Wiltshire is doing to prevent future drownings and highlighting drowning hotspots in the Avon & North Wiltshire area.

We know that nationally 63% of people drown in inland waterways, 23% in coastal waterways and 10% in a domestic setting. We also know that 78% of people who drown are male and 22% female. Nationally, there’s a peak in drownings in August. Most people who drown didn’t intend to enter the water (e.g. they just fell in) and in 34% of cases we don’t know what people were doing before they drowned – which means that they were alone when they died. In response, the RLSS UK recently launched the Survive & Save award with a much greater emphasis on survival and self-rescue.

There have been 60 deaths from drowning in the last 5 year in RLSS Avon & North Wiltshire. Research shows that for every death from drowning, there are around 300 near-drowning incidents.

I’ve commissioned research of the Bristol Coroner’s database to understand deaths from drownings in Avon & North Wiltshire. Our preliminary research indicates that local drownings mirror the UK statistics: 75 % of drownings are male and 25% female. Most Avon & North Wiltshire casualties are aged 20-34 with 65% of our drownings occuring in inland waterways, 12% in coastal waterways, and 12% in a domestic setting. Interestingly, we see a peak in drownings in April , May and June (not August) perhaps because students go home for the summer?

The next steps we are taking are working with the RNLI to develop a community water safety plan to target:

  • Particular groups that are at risk of drowning (e.g. students)
  • Particular drowning hotspots (e.g. the River Avon in Bath, the floating harbour in Bristol etc.)

The aim of the water safety plan is to engage with water users and target our water safety message where it will have most impact.

It’s always great to hear what our members, branches and clubs have been up. So, if like David, you have attended an event or given a presentation that you would like to share, please do. Email your articles to [email protected]