Dubai: Police have called for fences, gates and greater supervision after twin boys aged two and a half drowned in a neighbour’s pool in Ras Al Khaimah last June 6, but water safety experts say procedure and education is just as important.
“You can have a fence or pool cover but if the gate is unlocked or someone forgets to put the cover on, a child can still get in,” said Chris Tidey, managing director of Hamilton Aquatics, the UAE’s largest swimming academy, which also offers health and safety training and auditing of pools to UK standard certification.
“To me the bigger thing is education for all stakeholders involved in keeping a pool safe,” he added. “What does each person need to do and what is their responsibility?
“Also for those who could end up getting in, you can teach core aquatic skills from a young age that enable them to rotate, float and propel themselves to at least hold on to the side.”
The Ras Al Khaimah incident follows the case of a four-year-old boy drowning in a Sharjah school pool last November.
You can educate children on water safety and still have a safety fence, and if the gate is left open, they will still have the skills and confidence to earn themselves vital extra seconds.
After the school and two teachers were convicted of negligence and ordered to pay a combined total of Dh200,000 in blood money last month, Gulf News polled pool safety product advisors, who implied schools weren’t doing enough to protect their pools outside of lessons, and should install fences or pool covers.
But Tidey, whose academy audits and trains teachers from over 50 UAE schools said this just wasn’t the case, with all schools having keycard entrance and high locks intended only for teachers.
It goes from the very beginning of children knowing the basics of swimming from an early age, to pool owners or principles in schools knowing effective health and safety measures so children aren’t on their own.
“There’s not been a single school here that hasn’t wanted to immediately change a shortfall in safety once we’ve raised something in our audit,” he said. “Schools here are infinitely ahead of anything in the UK [in terms of pool safety] and of course people selling fences and pool covers are bound to say other things aren’t good enough.
“If there’s negligence in the operation it doesn’t matter whether there’s a fence there or not,” added Tidey. “It’s about having stronger risk assessment and sensible planning to reduce rates of accidental drowning and to insure everyone knows their responsibility.”
Early age learning
Ryan Trumpeter, head of operations at Hamilton Aquatics, and a specialist in pool health and safety, agreed: “It goes from the very beginning of children knowing the basics of swimming from an early age, to pool owners or principles in schools knowing effective health and safety measures so children aren’t on their own. If there aren’t fences or pool covers someone should be monitoring at all times.”
Gemma Altarriba of Swimming Wonders, who teaches children to swim from birth advocated a combination of prevention and education.
“It goes hand in hand,” she said. “You can educate children on water safety and still have a safety fence, and if the gate is left open, they will still have the skills and confidence to earn themselves vital extra seconds.
“If you think a baby of six months will learn to swim in six weeks with lessons you are wrong, they will, however, gain a familiarisation of water that will enable them to hold their breath and turn around.
“You still need pool fences, nothing should be underestimated, but lessons will enforce that they should only jump in when mum and dad are around, they gain a respect for the water that decreases the risk and if they fall in they can hold on to the wall and their chances of survival are higher.
“Early exposure is so important otherwise they are terrified by the time it comes to swimming lessons from age of two to three, when their body is developed and ready to swim,” added Altarriba, who said she thought early water familiarisation lessons should be encouraged, while swimming lessons from three should be mandatory.
In light of the Sharjah school incident authorities have stopped swimming lessons in schools there from kindergarten up to grade four.
“That isn’t making it safer,” said Tidey. “That’s just delaying the process of learning to swim and making it harder.”
TOMORROW: How early should a child learn how to swim? What should parents keep it mind when choosing lessons?