Compliance and Safety

OK. You’ve got the pool fence. So you think you’re safe?

Roughly 16 children under 5 years of age drown in backyard swimming pools across Australia each year. At Sentrel, it is our business to design pool fencing which is compliant with rigorous Australian Standards. As a part of our commitment to saving lives, we’ve been looking at why children continue to die in backyard pools, despite rigorous standards, ongoing swim-safety programs and increased public awareness.

Every year, the Royal Life Saving Society publishes an annual report summarising drowning statistics. They examine a range of variables including location, age, activity and other demographics, in a bid to clarify why people continue to drown in our waterways. Very young children are especially vulnerable, with most of them drowning in family pools. 

Pool fence legislation began to come into effect in the early 1970’s in South Australia. At that time, the incidence of childhood drowning had sky-rocketed with the popularity of fibreglass and temporary pools, and the subsequent upsurge of swimming pool installation in our country. As a result, it can be difficult to quantify the effectiveness of the increased awareness and legislation surrounding drowning in pools, since the affluence of our community has triggered a continuing growth of pool installation.

Also, although each incidence is tragic, the numbers are such that small annual differences look dramatically different when compared on a graph year to year. This year, for example, we have seen record-hot summers, and instances of sibling drownings, which will significantly affect the 2016 – 2017 figures when they are released. In the 1 – 5 age group, drowning is still the leading cause of accidental death.

Recently however, Cal Stanley, a respected consultant for the swimming pool standards industry, compiled data about drownings of under-5’s over the last 25 years.

Source: Splash Magazine

This data indicates a 57 per cent decrease in drownings in this age group over the 25 years, against a 54 per cent increase in the estimated number of swimming pools in Australia. However, whilst the figures overall suggest a downward trend in deaths in relation to pool installations, the actual number of toddlers who drown is falling quite slowly overall, particularly since the year 2000.

Also, the Independent Review of NSW Swimming Pool Barrier Discussion Paper 2015, shows the correlation between near-drowning and actual drowning statistics. Unfortunately, it also indicates some growth in the near-drowning reports since 2009, despite the implementation of the various ‘Swimming Pools Amendment Acts’.

Source: Independent Review of NSW Swimming Pool Barrier Discussion Paper 2015

Are we to conclude that there are more instances of near-drowning or better reporting of these incidents? Perhaps this figure represents the life-saving benefits of increased CPR skills of, for example, the parents, who are generally the first on the scene, or even speedier response times by emergency personnel. What the graph does not show is the 30% increase in deaths in 2015, or, what is likely to be significant numbers for the upcoming annual report.

Cases of near-drowning often have significant repercussions, including ongoing respiratory and health issues, and mild to severe brain damage which can result in a permanent vegetative state. In the past year, the RLSS has added ‘non-fatal drowning’ as a key issue to the Australian Water Safety Strategy. No parent should have to watch this happen to their child.

After literally days of looking into the statistics, one thing has become absolutely clear. There is no substitute for responsible supervision. Young children can drown in very shallow water in moments – small ponds, inflatable pools, or even the bath – and this often happens silently. In fact, it is the lack of a child’s noises that commonly alerts parents to the problem.

Children drown in pools where lifeguards are on duty, while being supervised by older siblings (a practice we never recommend), or where several responsible adults are present, but where there is a lack of clarity as to who is ultimately responsible.

In cases of pool drowning in NSW in 2016, children most commonly gained access to the pool through a faulty fence or gate (38%), lack of a fence (31%) or a gate which was propped open (18%) (Source RLSS). This can be at their own home, at a home where other children use the pool, or at a trusted relative’s home which they regularly visit. Never assume another pool fence is a reliable barrier against access, or that other people take full responsibility for your child’s safety.

There can be no doubt that a fully-compliant and well-maintained pool fence, where the gate has not been propped open, is a dependable line of defence against this most devastating of tragedies.

At Sentrel, we are proud to design and build products which contribute solidly to help prevent drowning in young children. Our name developed from the word sentry – ‘a soldier stationed to keep guard or to control access to a place’.

But we do not claim to be the first line of defence.

Responsible supervision is the most important preventative against drowning. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia describes this as ‘focusing all of your attention on your children all of the time, when they are in, on, or around the water. You must be within arm’s reach of your child and be ready to enter the water in case of emergency.’

Never take your eyes off your child, and be clear about which responsible adult is supervising. Teach your child water skills and impress upon them never to enter the water without an adult present. Follow our guidelines for ensuring that your pool area is safe.  

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