While it’s important to be prepared for any dangers that children might face during the summer, it’s also important to let them run around and have fun.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) believes that children’s activity and play need to be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.
“Summer is a great time for children to get out and experience the world around them,” says Peter Cornall, head of leisure safety at RoSPA. “You do need to be aware of safety issues, but this isn’t a reason to stop children enjoying activities.”
A few simple steps, such as asking a responsible adult to watch the children at a party, can reduce the risks.
If you go to stay with friends or relatives, their home or garden might not be as child-friendly as your home.
Children like to explore new surroundings, so make sure they don’t go far on their own. Ask your hosts to place medicines and cleaning products out of sight and out of reach.
Check the garden (if there is one) for potential hazards, such as tools, ponds or water butts. Just a few inches of water can be enough to drown a child, and it can happen quickly.
“Between 5 and 10 children a year drown in garden ponds,” says Peter. “If you’ve got a toddler, the best thing to do is fill the pond in with sand to make a sand pit. Otherwise, cover the pond with a substantial grille, or put a fence around it.”
Barbecues are fun, but make sure the barbecue is in good condition, and don’t use petrol to light it. If children are around, watch that they don’t get too close to hot surfaces.
“At parties, make sure one adult stays sober and sensible to supervise the children,” adds Peter.
Tips to protect your child from the sun
- Use a sun protection factor (SPF) cream of 15 or more.
- Cover them up with a hat and T-shirt.
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
Be safe around water
“Water fascinates young kids,” says Peter. “It’s great fun and great exercise, but any one of us can drown.
“Even the best supervisors and carers can get briefly distracted, and all it takes to drown is three minutes face-down in water.”
In 2005, 39 children under 15 drowned in the UK. One-third of these accidents happened in or near the home, for example in baths or ponds. The victims were mostly toddlers or young children. Older children (aged 6 to 14) are more likely to have an accident away from home, for example in rivers or beaches.
“Drowning happens so quickly,” says Peter. “If your child has wandered off, check water areas such as park ponds, neighbours’ ponds and pools first.”
Every day, tip the water out of a paddling pool when children have finished playing in it. Accidental drownings often happen when a young child wanders away from his or her parents or is playing near water.
“You do need to be within grabbing distance,” says Peter. “Most very young children will just drop into the water and not come back up again. They won’t scream for help, so you can’t rely on hearing them.”
Holiday pools, villas and hotels
Since the year 2000, at least 30 children from the UK under the age of 10 have drowned in swimming pools abroad. More than half were under four.
A significant number of holiday pool drownings happen on either the first or last day of a holiday. “Don’t send your children out to explore before you know what hazards are around,” says Peter.
When you arrive somewhere new, check out the facilities straight away, including the pool, the balcony (could a toddler squeeze between the bars?) and the fire escapes.
Supervise small children at all times and be within grabbing distance. “From the age of about five, you can start to explain dangers to them, but you still have to be vigilant with supervision,” says Peter.
It’s also worth evaluating your own ability to help if there’s an accident. “Think about your first aid and resuscitation skills,” he says. “Consider taking a first aid course.”
Booking your holiday
Peter also suggests being wary of holidays advertising that “children go free”.
“Ask what the children’s facilities are before you book,” he says. “If you aren’t paying for the facilities, they might not be very good and might not offer activities for your children.”
Always book your accommodation in advance so that you can ask any questions.
“If you wait to find accommodation on the day you arrive, you might find out that there’s a dual carriageway in front of the hotel, or a hazardous pool or dangerous beach,” says Peter. “You won’t have a relaxing holiday because you’ll be worrying about your children the whole time.”
Safety check list
Remember these safety tips if you and your family are visiting an area where there is water:
- Go for a walk around the pool, beach, lake or river, looking for any hazards (such as rocks) and where the emergency equipment is.
- Ask if there is a lifeguard on duty. Remember, a pool attendant isn’t the same as a lifeguard and might not have the same qualifications.
- Read the water safety information signs at the beach, and ask a lifeguard or tourist information officer where the safest area to swim is.
- Ask whether there are any dangerous currents or tides.
- If you’re renting a villa with a pool, make sure your child can’t wander outside unsupervised, particularly before you’re awake in the morning. If you can’t stop them going outside, nominate an adult to be a “lifeguard” near the pool at all times.
Take the RoSPA Water Wise quiz.
The RoSPA website provides factsheets on a range of topics, including child safety