Press Release "World Water Safety", Portugal 2007 (english Language)

Porto (Portugal) / Bremen (Germany), september 27, 2007. Annually, there's a death toll of 35 to 40 thousand people due to drownings in recreational areas throughout Europe. ImageExperts at the “Amsterdam World Congress on Drowning” in June 2002 estimated that 80 percent of all drownings could be avoided by preventive measures.

In the recent five years the situation did not improve. The increasing numbers of drownings call for urgent action. Helplessness, unawareness, and economical measures on one side, and increasing numbers of drowning fatalities on the other side determine the development and are clearly out of proportion. Every year, approximately 100 Million EU citizens travel to other EU countries. Within five years, two thirds of all Europeans stay in other EU countries. The situation in many European countries regarding life guard and warning systems, presence of life guards, information about water-based hazards, as well as education/training and rescue management is to be considered critical. Above all, at unguarded inland waters close to residential areas the number of drowning fatalities did rise, especially at high temperatures and in the groups of toddlers and elderly people.

Here are ten statements and demands to the World Water Safety Conference

1. Suppression of risk / missing information / recklessness

In certain situations like leisure and vacation known risks are faded out according to the pattern "it will always concern others". Additionally, the weeks of vacation during “all-inclusive-tours” are determined by a support mentality through "reserved safety", while individual travellers don't want to be "disturbed" during their vacation break by restrictions like warning flags and swimming prohibition. Children (interruption of permanent surveillance by parents, also in shallow waters) and elder people (missing swimming ability and bodily harm) are exposed to special risks. One reason for drownings is missing awareness dealing with the own body, alcohol consumption by children and teenagers and missing stamina in these groups, some of it caused by fast food and obesity. Also, concerned organizations (communities, service providers at swimming areas, travel agencies) provide insufficient information – or no information at all – about water hazards and proper behaviour in swimming and emergency situations. Reliable numbers of drowning fatalities are published very rarely in european countries.

2. Unguarded and unsecured waters / risk analysis

Many water bodies, which carry an increased risk of drowning, should be effectively blocked off or at least guarded, are neglected by responsible personnel with highly dangerous consequences. Causes are: lack of funding, sometimes lack of responsibility, occasionally ignorance. Obviously, not all waters in Europe can be guarded. But if highly frequented, dangerous and accident-prone waters were determined by risk assessments and guarded, the numbers of drownings would clearly decrease.

3. Blue flag

Meanwhile, more than 2000 swimming areas in Europe were awarded the "Blue Flag". But allocation criteria regarding beach safety is insuffient. So far, unguarded beaches may be awarded the blue flag, too. The “Blue Flag” is rather a marketing instrument than a safety indicator, and are displayed not only on beaches which are vastly safe. Our demand: beaches shall be awarded the “Blue Flag only if presence of life guards is guaranteed.

4. Rip currents

At european beaches, warnings regarding the hazards of rip currents are very rare. For this reason it must be called in question whether the hazards of rip currents are part of the criteria for warning notices and display of warning flags, and a component for life guard training. But rip currents are the main cause for most of the fatal accidents at surf beaches. That's why calls for consequent publication of clearly understandable instructions for the hazard of rip currents at all swimming areas which have strong currents and are highly frequented, and had drowning fatalities in the past caused by rip currents.

5. Too little voluntary helpers

From year to year, the willingness to be trained as a life guard and be engaged in emergency services decreases considerably, because there are more attractive recreational activities and areas of interest, and a constant increase in academic and occupational pressure, which do not allow voluntary engagement. The consequence: even if funds were provided for life guards, organisations could not provide trained personnel. The attractiveness of the duty as a life guard should be made more aware through intensified campaigns in cooperation with media, businesses and organizations. The daily "guard times" at swimming areas must be based on actual needs and life guards must be present for more than just the vacation period. The financial conditions for voluntary life guards must be improved in some EU countries. Many european rescue organizations do not have a concept for future recruiting of life guards, yet. Paying life guards an appropriate salary – and making the step from voluntary to professional service - is urgently necessary and must be brought up for discussion.

6. Drowning accidents: too rarely brought up for discussion

Drowning accidents in the leisure range are noticed less by media and the public in Europe. This is connected with the fact that in most fatal drowning accidents "only" one person dies. The reason is growing indifference of people if it does not concern themselves and is little spectacular. On the other hand this causes that water risk awareness is produced less and less.

7. Confusing flags

If signals are to cause a behavioural change they must be unambiguous and easy to understand at first sight. These very basic criteria are not the case with the new warning and prohibition signs. They are too difficult to understand. conducted some tests with holiday makers at beaches. Only a few of them were able to correctly describe the proper meaning of the flags. A yellow flag stands for "bathing and swimming hazardous", a red flag for "bathing and swimming prohibited". A green flag does not exist at german beaches, lakes and seas any more. It all makes sense up to this point. Irritation starts when "life guards present" is signaled at a beach. Then – when the situation becomes safer by life guards on duty – the decision was made to display a yellow and red flag. Especially this combination of colours, which stands for hazards and prohibition (see the "trained" traffic light colours). The yellow and red flag is used also to indicate the boundaries of a bathing and swimming zone. Now the confusion is complete, and the flags cause nothing but uncertainty. urgently demands to revise the previous recommendations regarding the colour of flags and zones.

8. Rescue too late / Defibrillators

Critical situations leading to life-threatening swimming accidents are recognized too late. Too much time is lost and a viction is found and first aid is provided by laymen or professional rescue personnel. Instead of activating the rescue chain after recognizing an emergency, beach visitors often search the water, first, and don't recognize the hazard severity. Drowning is an extremely time-critical process. The first few minutes are of critical importance for survival of the victim. In case of cardiac arrest, an “Automated External Defibrillator” (AED), which is rarely available at guarded beaches, seas and lakes, is othen the only possibilty to save a life. Until an emergency rescue vehicles equipped with an AED arrives on scene, it is all to often too late.

9. Swimming abilities and training / Accident analysis

The connection between swimming abilities and the risk of drowning certainly exists. Whether the number of drowning fatalities in Europe would significantly decrease if more people could swim has not been proven unambiguously so far due to missing accident analysis. Certainly, it's no question that the risk of drowning is minimized if a person who can swim falls into the water. To that extent, parents promote the hazard of drowning if they do not ensure their children take swimming lessons. Good swimmers feel safe in the water and don't get into panic situations that easily. On the other side: swimmers rather expose themselves to hazards than non-swimmers and then get into risky situations. Probably, swimmers are more irresponsible than non-swimmers and overestimate their abilities more often. Result: without accident analysis, there is no reliable statement possible about increased risk of non-swimmers. Also, the question whether people were limited in their swimming training because of missing opportunities to learn swimming, and consequently have a higher rate of drownings, has not been proven thus far.

10. Missing "electronic surveillance"

For some years now, there's technically matured systems with built-in under-water cameras available, which sets off an alarm if a body floats motionless in water. This life-saving piece of equipment– besides millions of Euros invested in recreational water parks – is tested and installed in very few cases, not even after fatal drownings have happened in a pool. From the standpoint of technical safety, each new automobile is equipped better than a public pool without electronic surveillance. This a an anachronism and – in spite of life guards on duty at many european pools – the reason why a number of drowning fatalities could not be prevented in the recent years.

Blausand. de is a non-profit organization, founded by Rolf Lueke in 1999 at the German city of Bremen, to increase swimming/bathing safety in Europe and to prevent drownings. A team of 20 engaged people is active for this organization throughout Europe. Most important goal is preventive measures for an improved bathing/swimming safety culture. The web portals and were visited by more than 4 million interested people.

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