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Swimming Pool Laws - Who needs a nanny state?

All hail Miranda Devine and her rallying forces against the nanny state........ after all who needs a nanny state.... not me....and I'm sure not you!

So how dare a government attempt to protect a vulnerable section of our community like 0-5 year olds, especially by reviewing laws which Miranda acknowledges as good..."many lives have been saved and injuries prevented by good laws - the original Swimming Pool Act requiring pools be fenced was one and compulsory seatbelts and random breath tests were two more."

In her article "Nanny State helps drown us in our own stupidity" (Sydney Morning Herald 21 October 2009) Miranda claims that the proposed changes to the Swimming Pools Act are as a result of a spate of child drownings last year. Sorry Miranda, even a rudimentary amount of research would have revealed that that the review process was underway prior to last "summers spate of drownings". In fact the review of the Swimming Pools regulation was completed prior to last summers spate of drownings, and the legislative review was already flagged at that point.

Research would also have revealed that there was a reduction in the overall number of toddler drowning across Australia last year, but this was not the case in NSW, where there was an increase, it would also have revealed that the numbers have been trending upwards across Australia over the past few years.

The original Pool Fencing Laws, which it is acknowledged have saved lives, were full of loopholes about which pools did or did not need to be fenced, and contained miserable enforcement provisions.

Why is a pool constructed before 1990 any less of a hazard than a pool constructed after 1990, why is a pool on a small block of land any less of a hazard than a pool on an sized block of land?" The simple answer is that there is NO difference in the hazard regardless of where the domestic swimming pool is located.

While the proposed laws will remove a raft of exemptions, they will apparently leave the problem of pools constructed prior to 1990 still not requiring fencing, thus a large segment of NSW pool stocks will still be exempt from laws which are acknowledged as good and beneficial.

If the existing laws were as effective as Miranda would like to believe then the number of child related drowning or near drownings would be going down [why....because the number of swimming pools increases and most of the new pools are required to be fenced], This is simply not the case.

Miranda claims that "every time there is a terrible accident involving a child, there are calls for fences around dams, wharves and matter how impractical or futile."

It should be noted that at no stage has any reputable organisation involved in drowning prevention like Royal Life Saving, Kidsafe, Childrens Hospitals or indeed the Samuel Morris Foundation called for such measures. It is a sad reality that of all the toddler drowning deaths sixty percent of them occur in backyard swimming pools.

It should also be remembered that the whole purpose of the Swimming Pools Act, and the Australian Standard for Pool Fencing which it refers to is to prevent the drowning of children aged 0-5.

Miranda states that "No matter that almost all child drownings in backyard pools are the result of inadequate adult supervision, it's the fences that are the focus of government energies. " Maybe that is because there is empirical research evidence to demonstrate that four sided isolation pool fencing, combined with other identified strategies are effective methods to reduce toddler drowning deaths, and there is research evidence (and coronial findings) that in many of these cases the pool fence or gate has failed to provide the barrier that it is installed to provide.

Miranda also states that "It's just too hard to tell parents the bleeding obvious, which is that if their children are near a large body of water, fence or no fence, then there is no alternative but to watch them like a hawk; and it's not a task that can be outsourced or shared. Children will always find ways of getting around fences and no barrier is a substitute for human vigilance.",

All those involved in the drowning prevention area constantly put out the message that there is NO substitute for adult supervision, and call on parents to be vigilant when their children are in, near, on or around water sources, in fact parental supervision is THE core prevention message of all drowning prevention organisations(it is just hard to get media coverage for this message!).

I'm so glad that none of Miranda's readers who are parents and who have commented on her article are like "those parents" who are irresponsible enough to LET their child drown or be left permanently disabled by a near drowning. I admire those parent who commented on Miranda's article like "100% hands on mum" with their absolute resolve to keep their eyes on their children 24 hrs a day, I'm sure their child has NEVER been out of their site for the short amount of time it can take a child to drown, SILENTLY! I truly hope that nothing ever happens to their children, because it would be horrible to find themselves living in a glass house, after throwing stones!

Coincidentally I should declare an interest because as a parent I am allegedly one of "those parents" because my child is permanently disabled as a result of a near drowning. My wife and I will never get over the "what if" questions.

The reality is we are and were responsible parents who did watch our children as much as humanly possible, but it still happened to us, because of a fence that was faulty and was allowed to be faulty by a flawed system of laws and their enforcement, via a council who never completed the final inspection of the pool as required by a development consent, and by conveyancers, lawyers and real estate agents who never pointed out that the pool DA had never been finalised! But this does not diminish the "what if" questions for us as parents.

Pool fences are meant to be a last option in the hierarchy of prevention measures against toddler drowning, with adult supervision being number one, barriers preventing access to the water, teaching the children to swim and learning CPR following.

I do not know any parent who can honestly say that their children NEVER escape their supervision event momentarily, when a child does slip away, the pool fence is supposed to prevent them getting into the pool area and provide the additional time (which may only amount to seconds) for you to find them without allowing them to get into the pool.

To have pools that are not required to be fenced, pool fences that are not required to be maintained and inspected, fences with gaps that are too big which allow a child to climb under or through them, to have fences with things around them that can be used as makeshift ladders, or having pool gates propped open is the equivalent of having no fence.

Every year drivers in NSW are required to obtain a "pink slip" for their car to demonstrate it is roadworthy, and therefore does not represent a threat to others. Surely Miranda and her supporters would claim that this is aslo a nanny state response and if there is a law that says your vehicle has to be roadworthy then every responsible car owner would make sure they maintained their car to the roadworthy standard, and the government should not tell us we need to have our car inspected regularly to ensure it IS actually safe to operate.

Regular inspections of pool fencing and the regular periodic obtaining of a similar "slip" which would ensure that the pool fence was maintained in accordance with the standard, which I support, have been been called for by the NSW coroner, however this has been ruled out by the NSW Government. So effectively the proposed law, while appearing to make improvements, says you should have and maintain a fence but we won't check on it or enforce it (unless someone complains to council about it)

It could be argued that part of the reason that drowning numbers are trending upwards is because those fences that have been required to be installed have not adequately maintained or inspected, thus diminishing the effectiveness of them as a protective measure against toddler drowning.

For article commentator "Daphon" I was the person you listened to on the radio as allegedly "the man whose foundation is responsible for these new laws". I wish I had this level of influence, clearly I do not, otherwise the regular inspections that I support would be part of the proposed changes by the NSW Government. Changes come about by the actions of many organisations, some of which have been named above.

Contrary to your assertion Daphon I do not want an Orwellian vision of cctv monitoring every pool. I simply want the laws to do what they were designed to do. The Swimming Pools Act was designed to help prevent toddlers drowning. The evidence clearly demonstrates it is failing to do so, and therefore needs to be reviewed. The weakness in the existing law has been exemptions and the failure to provide for compliance checks, I simply seek to have enforcement provisions included in the law.

What do you think?............ leave your comments below.

This pre-school class isn't waving!

Imagine driving by your local preschool and seeing 32 children aged under five running around and having a good time.

Now imagine this class being wiped out by a single tragedy....... the headlines would be screaming for something to be done about it!

The sad reality is that in Australia the equivalent of this class is wiped out by a tragedy each and every year! It is just that in most circumstances it happens one child at a time.

The 2009 National Drowning Report compiled by Royal Life Saving Society Australia, was launched today at Parliament House in Canberra, by the Honourable Kate Ellis, Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education, Child Care and Youth and Minister for Sport. The Samuel Morris Foundation was represented at the launch, and has recorded a couple of media pieces for Royal Life in support of the launch.

The 2009 National Drowning Report revealed that in the last year another 32 children aged 0-4 lost their lives to drowning. Sixty percent of these deaths occurred in domestic swimming pools.

Most people think.... it would never happen to me I'm not one of "those parents" what were those parents doing while their child was drowning?.

It's a sad assumption to make...... if you want to know why read this story about those parents, Darcie was one of the lucky ones, her son got a second chance! Or click on the links in the right menu bar to some of the other first hand stories and their consequences.

The reality is for every drowning death in Australia there are another four children admitted to hospital following a near drowning and 1/5th of them will experience a brain injury that leaves them with disabilities for life.

So almost another pre-school class who will never experience life the same again!

What do you think we can ALL do to make our children safer in and around the water? And remember as Darcie says in her post....." Sometimes bad things just happen, to good people, to good parents even!"

I'd love to hear your views...

Pick Me Up

Not everything goes to plan, and sometimes you simply cannot tell what challenges are around the corner, or how some people will react to certain things... so this has been the thinking topic for a day or so!

Samuel Morris is back in hospital...... So the time spent with him bedside creates plenty of space to think and reflect.

We know that many families dealing with tragedy, or significant challenges can be faced with the issue of depression. Sometimes things just wear you down and you simple can't be bothered.

However this post from Zen Habits provides some practical hints for helping to pick yourself up.... just remember...I think that number 7 is probably the most important one... although you do need to make sure that you talk about it to someone who will understand, and has the skills to help you, and remember anyone can call themselves a "counsellor" so make sure if you are going to use a service they have some good training.

There is also some other good lists, tips and hints at the site..........

Take Care...It can be a jungle out there!

What a week - THANKS!

Well it's Friday and that brings to end a VERY busy week for the Samuel Morris Foundation.

On Saturday night (30 May), the Foundation was represented at the Childrens Hospital at Westmead Rehabilitation Department annual Emerald Ball. As part of the video presentation at the ball Samuel was featured in the footage following his recent surgery to insert his Baclofen pump, and Michael Morris' voice featured in the parts of the voice over of parents experiences in utilising the Rehab Department. It was great to meet another group of dedicated parents, and to see the support provided for the Rehab Dept that does such great work for disabled children.

On Tuesday night the Foundation was represented at the Penrith Local Business Awards were the Samuel Morris Foundation was a finalist in the Specialised Business category, we congratulate the winner in our category, and both the finalists and winners in the other categories.

On Wednesday night the Foundation was the beneficiary of fundraising at the Aquatic and Recreation Institute's 45th Annual Conference Dinner. The Foundation appreciates the support of the Institute, it's members and the attendees at the Conference Dinner for their contribution towards the Foundation's activities. We look forward to continuing to work with the institute and it's members in a long and fruitful relationship.

We would also like to thank the many attendees at the dinner who have offered support to the Foundation in a number of important ways. It was also great to catch up with representatives from Austswim, Royal Life Savings NSW Branch and Ripples.

Would YOU?

Would you let 35 children under the age of five drown every year, would you let another 28 children be left disabled and another 120 children be admitted to hospital ........ from a cause that can be readily stopped?

I'm pretty sure your answer would be NO, you wouldn't allow this to happen if it was in your power to stop it!

Thankfully it IS in your power to help stop it.... firstly is personal action at your household level... use this checksheet to make sure your pool area is safe, always keep your kids under direct supervision in, on, or around water sources, learn CPR and teach your kids good water skills.

Then at your local and state level.... for those of us in NSW and Queensland we currently have the best opportunity in almost the last 20 years to make changes to the Laws and Regulations that CAN and WILL make a big difference to the numbers listed above!

Both the New South Wales and Queensland Governments are reviewing their Swimming Pools Acts and are calling on public submissions to inform the legislative process.

The New South Wales review papers can be found here, and the Queensland paper here.

There has been some vocal opposition to some proposed changes in both states, with some pool owners resistant to potential cost and some local governments opposed to "additional work" . I guess you have to ask what cost a child's life, what additional work for parents (and the health system) for raising a disabled child?

Choice has demonstrated that pool fencing materials are also a major cause for concern, with a large number of fencing materials failing to meet the Australian Standard.

The Samuel Morris Foundation has made preliminary submissions to both Governments and is in the process of drafting its final submissions.

What do you think? What changes would you make to improve the safety of home swimming pools and prevent toddler drowning and near drowning incidents? We want to hear your thoughts!

Photo by Rickes