Drowning deaths occur quickly, silently and in almost any body of water including nappy buckets, farm dams, rivers, lakes, beaches, ponds, water features, inflatable pools and home swimming pools and

Drowning deaths occur quickly, silently and in almost any body of water including nappy buckets, farm dams, rivers, lakes, beaches, ponds, water features, inflatable pools and home swimming pools and spas. A child does not need much water to drown in ” one child drowned in the bottom of a shower recess.

The tragic drowning of a fifteen month old boy in a backyard pool in Kenthurst Australia is a stark reminder of how easily a young life can be lost. Even more tragic is the knowledge that 35 toddlers drowned in the twelve months to 30 June 2007 and since then a further 13 have died from drowning.

Even more tragic is the knowledge that 35 toddlers drowned in the twelve months to 30 June 2007 and since then a further 13 have died from drowning.

There has been much publicity about water safety in recent years and there has been a 60% decrease in drowning in the 04 age group since 68 deaths were recorded in 19992000. Unfortunately the 200607 rate of 35 deaths has stayed at around that level for the past five years and Royal Life Saving is desperately seeking measures to dramatically reduce it towards the “target zero.

The Royal Life Saving national program Keep Watch stresses four key factors that all parents and carers of infants and toddlers should follow

  1. Supervision ” young children need to be supervised constantly (within arms’ reach) whenever they are in, on or near the water
  2. Restrict your child’s access to water ” either by putting a barrier around the water or putting a barrier around the child.
  3. Water Familiarisation ” undertaking water familiarisation with your child will help you become aware of the dangers and is a good preliminary for developing future swimming skills
  4. Resuscitation ” learning CPR skills can help if an emergency does arise

There is no doubt that greater community awareness of water safety, national pool fencing legislation and improved CPR skills have contributed to the reduced drowning rate but clearly 35 deaths every year is simply not acceptable. The suffering of families and friends of the child lost is heartbreaking.

So how can the situation be improved? How can we achieve our target zero drowning result?

Pool Fencing has been the topic of discussion since the Bargo and Kenthurst drownings apparently occurred when the fence was in place and the gate was shut. Legislation requires that fencing meets the Australian Standard 1926.2 which advocates 4-sided fencing, isolating the pool from the house with sides a minimum 1.2m in height, width of the bars not more that 10.5 cm and the latch being 1.5m in height.

Unfortunately our investigation reveal that many pool fences do not comply with the regulations and in fact in one QLD local council area 85% of pools inspected failed to meet the standard or had faulty gates or locks or had objects such as trees, bushes, bbq’s or other furniture adjacent that a child could use to climb over.

Pool owners have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their pool and are encouraged to inspect it regularly, particularly during the warmer months.

  • Is the fence secure?
  • Does the gate have a working self closing, self latching lock?
  • Are there any trees or bushes that have grown since last year that a child could climb? If so – chop them.
  • Are there any objects that a child could climb over? If so ” remove them from the area.
  • Daily inspection of the pool area is recommended.

You only have to look at lifestyle TV programs or read glossy Real Estate brochures to see that many pools are not properly fenced – in the name of aesthetics. Royal Life Saving believes that no property with a pool should rented or offered for sale unless that pool complies with the safety standards. Home architects and landscape specialists should be required to ensure that any design meets the safety standards.

Local Government has a role to play in ensuring compliance with the fencing legislation. In a number of local council areas throughout Australia inspectors check backyard pools for compliance on a yearly or biannual basis. This service is charged through the rates of the pool owner with a yearly cost of less than one bag of chlorine and Royal Life Saving encourages all local councils to follow suit.

CPR is an important skill for all of us to learn. We hope that you never need to use those skills but it is most likely it will be in the home environment and you will be performing it on a partner, child, friend or loved one. CPR skills are easy to learn, they are not expensive and are readily available ” Everyone Can Be a Lifesaver.

Water familiarisation activities for children over 6 months of age are useful for making the child comfortable in the water and provide a good bonding opportunity for parent and child. Only a very small percentage of children will develop skills at this age and parents should not be lulled into a false sense of security about their child’s ability.

The only sure method of keeping a child safe near water is constant adult supervision. With over 250,000 newborn children in Australia each year there is a huge number of new parents to get the important Keep Watch message to.

We know that children slip out of sight quickly so parents must be constantly vigilant, particularly if there are older siblings. Danger times for families are meal times where the parents are co ping with a number of different tasks. Make sure that the child is positioned so they are in close, constant visual contact. Parents should act as a team in ensuring that each knows which one of them is directly responsible for supervising the child.

A typical drowning situation often occurs during the festive season where a group of adults and children are enjoying the summer conditions. At party of 8 adults and kids splashing in the pool it is easy to assume that someone else is looking at the children – in reality no-one is supervising the children and this is a recipe for disaster.

Royal Life Saving has produced the “Designate Child Supervisor Hat which is to be worn by the parent designated to supervise the children. That person is in charge until the hat is passed on to another adult for their turn to Keep Watch.

On rural properties with so many different sources of water and other dangers parents are encouraged to create a “child safe play area to prevent the child from putting themselves at risk.

Parents can not take their child’s safety for granted – not for a moment. It is easy for parents to be lulled into a false sense of security with supposed safeguards like pool fencing, pool alarms, child alarms, swimming lessons which all promise safety but they cannot be relied upon 100% of the time ” the only 100% safeguard is constant adult supervision.

There is nothing more devastating to a family than losing a young child to drowning ” if your readers can hear the Keep Watch message and please analyse their own situation. Please don’t be complacent about your child’s safety. Check the pool environment and make any necessary changes ” please prepare for vacations, visitors and parties to make sure that every child will be supervised all the time.

Book into a CPR course. Create a child safe area.
It’s not easy but please Keep Watch ” and prevent your child from drowning.

Rob Bradley
Chief Executive Officer
Royal Life Saving Society Australia