Ombudsmans report urges action to prevent childhood drowning

24 November 2017

Royal Life Saving applauds a ground breaking new report by the Ombudsman WA, investigating ways to prevent childhood drowning.

The report, tabled in State Parliament yesterday, contains a total of 25 recommendations for the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety and the Building Commissioner to action. The Royal Life Saving Society urges these departments to implement these recommendations.

The Ombudsman’s report highlights the significant toll drowning places on the WA community. “Alongside 34 drowning deaths, the high number of non-fatal drownings is staggering. The report found 258 children were hospitalized and 2,310 attended an emergency department over a 6 year period. This is an alarming statistic”, said Royal Life Saving CEO Peter Leaversuch. “Each one of these represents a near miss, with the difference between a near-miss and a fatality often being less than a minute” he said.

The collection of hospital admission and emergency department attendance figures is a ‘first of its kind’ and is a wake-up call as to the size of the problem. It shows how vital it is that every home pool owner is a lifesaver, equipped with basic supervision and first aid skills. “Royal Life Saving promotes parental supervision via its Keep Watch campaign. As a community we need to strengthen our efforts to spread this message and we need to provide parents with basic first aid skills. The statistics in the report show the important role parents can play in an emergency. What happens before the ambulance arrives is critical. Many young lives were saved due to the quick actions of parents and grandparents”, said Mr Leaversuch.

Royal Life Saving recently launched a new Keep Watch awareness campaign to remind parents not to be complacent about pool safety this summer. The new campaign features two key messages;

1. “Water. It’s only safe while you’re watching” and

2. “Pool gates. They’re only safe when they’re shut”.

These messages inform parents of the simple actions they must take to keep their children safe around water. 

The Ombudsman’s report also highlights the critical importance of a working safety barrier around home swimming pools. The report makes a range of sensible recommendations to ensure that the 144,899 home pools in WA are safe places. It recommends the Building Commissioner act to address “wide spread noncompliance” which estimated 45% (ie over 65,000) barriers fail to comply when their mandatory 4-yearly inspection is due. “What this report shows is that we can and need to improve. Not only how we build and install safety fences, but also what we do to ensure the fence continues to work. WA is the only State that requires mandatory (4-yearly) inspections however more can be done to improve this service for home pool owners and to ensure the barrier not only works at the time of the inspection but importantly for the 4 years between the safety checks.”

Another important recommendation in the report relates to portable swimming pools and spas, and the requirement for owners to comply with pool barrier regulations relating to pools that are more than 300mm deep. The Ombudsman recommends the Building Commissioner collaborate with relevant state government agencies, local governments and other stakeholders, to develop strategies to ensure compliance with these regulations by all owners of portable swimming pools and spas.

Royal Life Saving recognises that unfenced portable pools and spas pose a serious drowning risk for young children, with children drowning in these locations every year in Australia and those aged under 3 years most at risk. We urge all pool and spa owners to ensure these are fully fenced with a compliant barrier to prevent unaccompanied access by a child.

Drowning remains the leading cause of preventable death for children under five years of age. Royal Life Saving urges parents of young children to enrol in its Infant Aquatics water familiarisation program. These programs - delivered to over 23,000 participants last year - involve both the parent and the child, introducing them to water in a safe way and developing vital safety skills for parents.

“Children are not only introduced to water, parents and carers are taught by an instructor about the risks and what their child can and cannot do. Royal Life Saving is concerned that too many children are missing out on these vital lessons. In a place like WA water safety is a life skill, and many people who are first time pool owners or new to WA need to understand this. It is vital that every child learns to Swim & Survive and that no one misses out”, said Mr Leaversuch.

Learn more about our Keep Watch toddler drowning prevention campaign here.

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