The Principles of Drowning prevention are the same around the world

The Principles of Drowning prevention are the same around the world

Zero Drownings – Our Journey for Hannah

Child drownings, my journey to educate on prevention and the road to grief.

posted by hannahs foundation

Think about this…. This story could be you, your friend, your neighbour

WARNING: This entry of my blog comes with a WARNING that it could be distressing to some readers. Please be cautious of its content about Child drowning.

If Australia is to get serious about drowning prevention as opposed to water safety we need to get back to the basics.

Supervision and barriers together will save lives.

Over the past five years having become a Water Safety Advocate not by choice, but by fate, through losing my own child through drowning the research I have been able to undertake in Coroner’s Court, Public Awareness Campaigns, speaking to parents and general research has really raised my own opinion on how drownings happen.


A young toddler aged two fully clothed, shoes and socks enters a backyard through an open door which an older sibling has just come home through, through the laundry at his house, mum is currently in the kitchen making a sandwich, the toddler is exploring his surroundings. The toddler comes across something in the backyard. The toddler is approximately 60 cm away from a broken pool fence panel. The mother is unaware that the pool fence is broken. The toddler since the age of six months of age has been attending water familiarisation programs at his local swim school with mum once a week. Every Friday, religiously mum packs up the family car, the swim bag and heads off the fun and play in key games in the pool. Mum believes she is teaching her toddler about water safety. Only last week this toddler sitting in his swim nappy, and his goggles and swim cap was sitting on the side of the Pool. Upon a cued song with others around them this toddler then jumped into the water. Kicking and propelling himself into mum’s arms then with mum’s instruction and again on cue from the instructor he then propels himself back to the side of the pool and then smiles and claps at his achievement. This is where last week’s lesson will go horribly wrong.

The toddler is now at the pool fence with a gap of more than 10 cm he is able to fit through the bottom corner. It’s only been 15 seconds since the toddler was out of mum sight. The next 20 will leave this family shattered forever.

As the toddler adventures through the cleared landscaping now heading for the water the lessons of last week will not kick in. The toddler is wearing a jacket, a T-shirt, a singlet, and nappy, a pair of corduroy jeans, shoes and socks. The toddler is now on his knees looking at the water. Most if not all toddlers at this stage will explore their environment this is what toddlers do best. The toddler sees a leaf in the water and his ball across in the middle of the pool. The toddler has now reached out with his hands. The next 20 seconds are the most crucial. There is silence still, no splashing, no screaming, nothing, not a sound. He is now fighting for life but in sheer silence.

Mum is now calling bub’s name she can’t hear him and she can’t see him. there is 360 degrees from where mum is standing, which degree does she travel?

Thinking the pool is fenced there is no danger. Mum then ventures around the side of the house, the toddler is nowhere to be seen. Mum walks past(still not in panic) the edge of the pool and notices something in the water that is unusual as she walks close eye she notices it’s actually her child. As she runs in a panic to the pool gate she realises the key is on the fridge in the kitchen she is unable to climb the gate not knowing how her child at this stage had entered the pool area mum is screaming and neighbours come running. One neighbour jumps the back fence into the pool area and grabs her son out of the pool. In a clear panic the neighbours start CPR by this time 3 min as already passed. Mum is now constantly screaming in a panic she is unable to move she is frozen with emotion and shock. Bystanders from neighbours assist the mother and trial and called 000.

This scenario is all too often happening in backyard swimming pools, Lakes, creeks and dams yet we are told that swimming lessons save lives. So what went wrong?

I’d like to give you my opinion and this has never changed in five years, I’ve written often on this very issue.

There are many factors that contribute to a drowning and they are never in isolation from each other.

1. supervision breakdown,

2. barrier breakdown,

3. breakdown in swimming skills or the ability to self rescue and survive, and

4. that CPR was unsuccessful. (And please when I say unsuccessful that does not mean failure. The fact that CPR was actioned, The fact that CPR was continuous is what you are meant to do. The fact that 000 was called and instructions were obtained. The fact is that CPR was administered by the local hospital as well as intubation and medications in a desperate attempt to save this young boy’s life all were unsuccessful. No one failed CPR. CPR is the last line of defence in saving lives. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. More often than not in a drowning it will not.)

So what could have prevented this from happening?

We know that this young toddler had the skills to propel himself in the water, we know that he could turn around and reach the side of the pool, we know that he could hold his breath under water and turn around and again could reached the side of the pool and we also know that he could jump into the water willingly without fear. We also know that he was cued with instructions to do these very tasks. His lessons were fun, they were controlled, they were in a warm heated environment, yet when he drowned he was not cued, he had no one to tell him what to do, he could not he could not remember the action, and the water temperature was not heated. How tragic that his skills that he had only learnt last week had not been able to assist him. His mother wants to know why?

The pool barrier had not been maintained. Both parents work full time, rent the house, have three children, are regularly in the backyard, and were unaware that the bottom end of the back gate along the boundary fence had not been maintained. Again, the pool fence had not been checked the sometime either by them, their landlord, the agent or their council. How tragic that this could happen. Laws exist to ensure Pools comply for safety.

Supervision we all know is needed for young children. Homes, roads, shopping centres, parks, animal nurseries, anywhere where a young child resides, plays, or visits is a dangerous place. There are stories about dangerous laundries, bathrooms, lounge rooms, TVs, display cabinets, driveways the list goes on that can potentially be dangerous to children. Supervision is crucial in preventing accidents and injuries and also is the main first line of defence when preventing accidents and injury.

Many in the community would read the above story and would have instantly blamed the mother. I disagree, but then I am this mum too. The solid backup (second set of eyes) that mum needed on that day was a sound maintained and compliant pool fence could have prevented tragedy. It too failed. Its a proven, testified fact that over 85% of pool fences in Australia DO NOT COMPLY with safety standards. How bloody tragic!

Sadly I see this all the time too often in fact, it breaks my heart over again. Today, again we have those in the swimming industry saying learn to swim it’ll save your life yet reading the above it tells a different story. It’s all we see in coroners court is the story above and never once have I witnessed nor undertaken the line of questioning of “why didn’t the skills kick in”.

If only the pool fence had been fixed, if it had of been known that it was broken the parents would have fixed it, if regular checks were in place, if the laws were in place to mandate that rental properties had compulsory pool fencing may be this tragedy could have been prevented.

The above scenario is WHY we have pool fencing laws and this is why there should be a mandatory inspection regime with professionals to check your pool fence. I urge every parent of a toddler with a pool to organise now a Pool Safety with a license professional who can certify your pool fence and issue you a pool safety certificate, anything less is not good enough.

I see too many of these scenarios in evidence briefs for a coronial inquest, please don’t let this happen to you. If you read this and ignore it you too could be living this mother’s life. A life of self- blame, public condemnation and suffering. PREVENTION and SUPERVISION and a COMPLIANT barrier are the only two steps to save a young child’s life in any circumstance.

Rental properties, nationally equate to over 76% of all backyard pool drownings. This statistic is researched by Hannah’s Foundation and was first calculated in 2009 after a cluster of drownings. I urge anyone who is a landlord, tenant or agent to read this and act immediately. Do an audit on your pools and check that they are compliant and maintained always.

Kat Plint

26th October 2012