One child a day expected in Quebec emergency rooms for a drowning or near-drowning this summer

Montreal, May 23, 2024 - The warm days have just started, and families are preparing to enjoy a swim in pools, lakes or water parks. It's important to be alert: from year to year, drowning remains a leading cause of unintentional injury death in Canada.

During the summer months, an average of one child a day goes to the emergency for a drowning or near-drowning in Quebec. This is the finding of a study that will be presented in September at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Paediatric Surgeons (CAPS).

The research was conducted by Dr. Hussein Wissanji, pediatric general surgeon at the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) and investigator in the Child Health and Human Development Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, in collaboration with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec and the Bureau du coroner.

“The study aims to better understand the frequency and severity of drownings and near-drownings among children in Quebec, in the context of the adoption of provincial regulations on pool enclosures,” says Dr. Wissanji.

The regulations are in force, but owners of residential pools installed before November 2010 have until September 30, 2025 to bring their installations up to standard. All others must already comply with the rules.

The research team studied drownings and near-drownings that led to a consultation at Quebec emergency departments between 2017 and 2021 for children aged 0 to 17. The results show that, while no age group is protected, drownings occur more frequently among children aged one to four. Drowning-related deaths are more frequent in the absence of an accompanying individual or protective measures such as an enclosure.

“For every child who dies from drowning, more than ten go to emergency or are hospitalized for near-drowning. These are not isolated cases and vigilance is called for,” notes Dr. Wissanji.

How to prevent drowning

According to Debbie Friedman, MCH Trauma Director and Director of the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, drowning prevention requires a multifaceted approach, including:

  • Constant adult supervision: close, undistracted and attentive surveillance of children around any body of water, all eyes on the water at all times. This means no phones, screens, books, and no chatting with neighbours or drinking alcohol. The supervising adult should be within arm’s reach of anyone with weak swimming skills;
  • Swimming lessons are encouraged;
  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training is recommended;
  • Never swim alone, regardless of age;
  • Know the swimming skill level of those in your pool.

MCH Trauma Centre experts* emphasize the following life-saving measures to prevent drowning:

  • Install fencing compliant with Quebec regulations around the pool and ensure there is not direct access to the pool from the house or patio;
  • Close and lock the gate to the pool when not in use;
  • When there is direct access to a lake, make sure doors remain locked at all times to prevent a child from wandering into the water;
  • Ensure that children are properly supervised when going on a field trip to a pool, lake or water park;
  • Teach children to always swim with a buddy;
  • Make sure to swim in an area that matches swimming ability.

The government recently amended the Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, requiring all owners of swimming pools in Quebec to install fencing and to ensure there is no direct access from the home to the pool. Even though the government has given owners of pools installed before November 2010 a grace period until 2025 to conform to the new rules, timely action is recommended.

Many families eager to enjoy the summer months have installed a pool in their backyard. However, it is important to follow the drowning prevention recommendations above and not let a beautiful day by the water end in a preventable, life-altering tragic event.

For more on how to prevent drowning deaths this summer, download the Children’s info sheet at:

*Debbie Friedman, MCH Trauma Director, Dr. Laurie Plotnick, Emergency Department Medical Director, Liane Fransblow, Trauma Coordinator, Glenn Keays, Coordinator of Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program, and Kelly Cummins and Sylvie Lévesque, Emergency Department Nursing Leadership.