Two children — both three-years-old — have died in separate drowning incidents at backyard pools in Ontario in less than a week, and the tragedies have prompted fresh warnings from those focused on swimming safety.
The deaths come as an early summer reminder that drowning remains a real risk.
The Life Saving Society of Ontario says the average number of drowning deaths across the province is 152 per year. A further 98 people, on average, will be hospitalized after a near-fatal drowning, while some 555 will require treatment in the ER.
Families need to talk about that risk — even with young children, says Stephanie Backalar, a spokesperson for the organization.
"They're never too young to learn about water safety," Backalar said.
Both of the recent drowning incidents in the Greater Toronto Area took place at backyard pools, which pose an additional safety risk because trained lifeguards aren't usually present. For safer play near the water, the Life Saving Society recommends taking children to beaches and pools supervised by certified lifeguards. Even there, lifeguards do not replace direct parental supervision but act as an extra layer of protection, they caution.
So, how can parents keep their kids safe this summer? Backalar shared this advice with CBC Toronto:
Eyes on children at all times
Anyone in the water should be under close and constant supervision. Children should have an adult's eyes on them at all times when they are in the water. "Always, always, always actively supervise kids near the water," said Backalar.
That supervision should be planned for in advance, especially if there's a going to be a busy scene. The Oakville incident happened while children were attending a birthday party, Halton police said.
"Be really vigilant, make sure you know where your kids are," Backalar said.
Put a life jacket on
Backalar said children should always wear a life jacket — not only at the backyard pool, but if they're on a boat, at the cottage, or at a waterfront setting where they may tumble into the water.
Teach children to swim
According to the Life Saving Society of Ontario, basic swimming ability is a fundamental requirement in any meaningful attempt to eliminate drowning. The Lifesaving Society offers training programs from learn-to-swim through advanced lifesaving, lifeguarding and leadership.
Its Swim for Life program stresses lots of in-water practice to develop solid swimming strokes and skills.
Install fencing around backyard pools
Backalar recommends four-sided fencing around backyard pools.
"A lot of pools actually have three-sided fencing where the house is considered the fourth side. We want you to actually create another barrier between your home and your pool so that your pool is entirely enclosed by fencing, and then any gates to access your pool should be self-latching so that when you leave the area they are closing shut behind you," she said.
In Ontario, according to Bill 74, the Swimming Pool Safety Act, every swimming pool owner must ensure that a fence is constructed and maintained around the area of the pool.
Install alarms for doors and gates
While a lot of people might not think about this, Backalar said door and gate alarms are very important. "If your child actually does leave the home and an alarm sounds, you're going be notified of that no matter where you are in the home and you can respond very quickly. So, door alarms and gate alarms are great."
Get a safety checklist
The Life Saving Society of Ontario has a safety checklist on its website. Backalar recommends homeowners look at the checklist as a family and check to make sure that their backyard pool is set up for safety.