The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns that buckets filled with water or other liquids, especially the large five-gallon size, present a drowning hazard to small children. CPSC knows of at least 67 drowning deaths in buckets during the years 1985-1987, mostly to young children 8 - 12 months old. Information available to the Commission strongly suggests that many, if not most, of these drownings occurred in large (five-gallon) plastic buckets or containers being used for mopping floors or for other household chores.
While large buckets or containers appear to be most hazardous, the CPSC staff warns consumers never to leave any bucket of water unattended where small children may gain access to it.
In 17 of the 67 death reports for the period 1985 - 1987 available to the Commission, the size of the bucket was reported. All of these were reported to be five-gallon buckets or containers.
The Cook County, Illinois Medical Examiners Office, which first alerted the Commission to this particular hazard, reports that all of the 11 bucket drownings which it has investigated since 1985 involved five-gallon plastic shipping containers being used as household buckets.
Large five-gallon plastic or metal containers are used for bulk or commercial-sized quantities of a wide variety of products including food, paint, construction materials such as spackling compound. When emptied of their original contents, these containers are sometimes re-used as buckets by consumers. Similar five-gallon containers are also sold new in stores as large volume household buckets.
Young children's curiosity combined with their crawling and pulling up while learning to walk can lead to danger when buckets are used around the house. The Commission staff believes that these drownings happened when curious children or toddlers crawled to a bucket containing mop water or other liquids for household chores, pulled themselves up and leaned forward to play in the water. When they toppled into the bucket, they were unable to free themselves and drowned.
The five-gallon bucket is particularly dangerous (even when only-partly filled) because its heavier weight makes it more stable than a smaller bucket and unlikely to tip over when a child uses it to pull up. The five-gallon containers are commonly about half the height of these infants and with several gallons of water, weigh more than children of that age.
The Commission is interested in learning more about this hazard. If you know about a drowning or near drowning incident in a bucket or similar product, call the CPSC Hotline at 1-800- 638-2772. A teletypewriter for the hearing impaired is available at (301) 595-7054.
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