Swimming pools can kill children – unless you take these steps

The Department of Consumer Protection is warning against the use of ‘mermaid tails’ by young children. Picture: The Shed Studios.
The Department of Consumer Protection is warning against the use of ‘mermaid tails’ by young children. Picture: The Shed Studios.

THE latest annual Royal Life Saving Society drowning report found swimming pool drowning deaths have increased in WA.

Consumer Protection joins the campaign to highlight strong summer safety messages that need to be heard by everyone.

Supervise

Children under five account for the largest number of swimming pool drowning deaths in Australia14 children from that age group lost their lives through swimming pool drowning in 2013/14. It means adults need constantly to supervise young children in and around water.

Don’t get distracted. Even checking your mobile phone or hanging washing on the line can leave enough time for a tragedy to occur. At family gatherings nominate an adult to supervise the children. That adult needs to accept responsibility to remain vigilant, remain sober and ideally be trained and ready to provide first aid.

Safeguard

Any pool with water deeper than 30 centimetres, or the length of an average ruler, must be fenced and have a self-closing, self-latching gate. Details about pool fencing laws in WA can be found on the Building Commission website.

Too often we hear of gates that have been propped open or objects that can be climbed on left near the fence. This must stop.

It is also important for home owners or occupiers to regularly check that the fence, gate and posts haven’t been compromised by sun exposure over time.

Shallow doesn’t mean safe. Portable pools with a water depth less than 30 centimetres pose a serious drowning risk even though they do not need to be fenced off.

A small child can drown in as little as five centimetres of water, within two minutes in total silence.

Also, be absolutely sure to completely empty portable pools after use and store them securely.

Leaving them out where they can fill up with rain or sprinkler water could prove to be a fatal mistake.

Last year a national standard was introduced requiring mandatory warnings to be included with all portable pools sold in Australia.

Floaties

Flotation devices should not be seen as a replacement for adult supervision. Armbands, rubber rings or floating mattresses are made of materials that can perish in the sun or be burst by a sharp object, meaning they can deflate unexpectedly.

You also need to read warning labels for information about age or weight restrictions.

Mermaid tails

A child’s swimming ability should be assessed when selecting aquatic toys.

Consumer Protection has particular concerns about “mermaid tails”. They bind a child’s legs and acts as a “flipper”’ so that the child can swim like a fish.

They usually come with an age recommendation of six years or more, advice that the child needs to be a good swimmer, must be supervised, may require a lesson in how to use the tail and a warning that the tails are for use in swimming pools of a certain depth and not shallow water.

Our worry is that in the excitement of Christmas, a child who may be too young or incapable of using a “mermaid tail” might end up trying one.

A video from the United States that went viral on social media showed a little girl getting stuck upside down in her family’s backyard pool when using her ‘mermaid tail’ for the first time, before being rescued by her mother. This could have ended very differently if an adult had not been present.

Consumers who have any safety concerns about portable pools or pool toys for sale in WA can contact Consumer Protection by emailing consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

Information is available on the Product Safety Australia website.

Further advice on how to prevent drowning is available on the Royal Life Saving Society’s WA website and national website.