Swimming pool safety – drowning and children under five years

Swimming pools, paddling pools and hot tubs can be dangerous places for children especially in the summer months.

Drowning is the second highest cause of accidental deaths of children under five years of age in England – an average of 12 children died each year between 2008 and 2014 and swimming pools are one of the three most common places for a young child to drown.

The table below shows data on deaths in the UK in 2014 and hospital admissions in England in 2012/2013 which gives a sense of the scale of the problem.

Deaths and hospital admissions – drowning, 2014 & 2012/13


The main drowning risks

Pool, pond, bath (9 deaths)

  • Age 0-5: 9 deaths

(3 pool; 2 pond; 2 bath; 2 n/k)

Natural water (29 deaths)

  • Age    0-4:       0 death
  • Age    5-9:       3 of 3 deaths 
  • Age 10-14:      5 of 5 deaths 
  • Age 15-19:      21 of 21 deaths

The National Water Safety Forum’s data for drowning in the UK shows the pool, pond and bath are the main risks for young children, and natural water (rivers, the sea, harbours and reservoirs) as they get older. Source: National Water Safety Forum (NWSF), June 2015

A call for compulsory fencing of residential swimming pools

Inquests into recent deaths in home pools have noted that fences would have prevented young children from falling into the water after having slipped away from siblings looking after them. This has led for a call for compulsory fencing as is the case in several other countries including Australia.

Essex water safety campaign

Following recent deaths of children in the county in residential pools, the Essex, Thurrock and Southend Safeguarding Children Boards have combined to raise awareness of accidental drowning among its residents.

Its Wise up to Water campaign focuses on residential pools, hot tubs and paddling pools and includes a free downloadable poster which has lots of practical advice.

Learning to swim

The Essex campaign emphasises the value of children learning to swim from an early age, and whilst young swimmers will still need adult supervision, being able to swim under the age of five years has a wide range of benefits. Participation in swimming has been declining in the UK and the Amateur Swimming Association has identified that nearly half of children aged 7-11 years are unable to swim a length of an average sized swimming pool unaided.

Holiday swimming pools

More children drown in holiday swimming pools abroad than they do in the UK, and several children have already died this year.

RoSPA has a fact sheet on child holiday swimming pool safety which also provides advice for parents, including emphasising the added risks of the first and last days of holidays. This is an important point, and a young teenager that died in 2015 drowned on the last day of his holiday.

Children aged 1-4 are most at risk. A short film produced by the Angus Lawson Memorial Trust to help prevent drowning calls this age group The Danger Age. The powerful film emphasises how much young children love to explore and why it is essential for adults to be clear who is supervising a child when around water and the importance of avoiding distractions such as mobile phones.

See CAPT’s Focus on Swimming Pool Safety for more information.

More information

Updated July 2015