Calls by a coroner for child-resistant barriers around swimming pools to become a legal requirement following the tragic death of a three year old British boy, has sparked an industry-wide safety debate.
Jack Rowe drowned in his family’s swimming pool in Wiltshire; it is believed he slipped into the water while he was trying to reach his favourite toy. At the inquest into Jack’s death in April, the coroner, Claire Balysz said she would be asking the government to introduce laws forcing families to surround pools with child-resistant barriers – an issue which has divided opinion among the water leisure sector.
“I don’t believe it’s necessary for us, as pool builders, to highlight safety issues to clients,” Steve Goldsmith of Bell Leisure, a pool building company based in Sussex.
“In most cases, the clients are already aware of the potential safety risks and will specify fencing if they feel it is required for them.”
He adds: “If laws are brought in for compulsory fences around swimming pools, will it mean that all areas of open water, such as garden ponds and lakes will also have to be fenced off too? Where do we draw the line?
“I’m always cautious when advising on safety measures such as covers and fencing as I don’t believe that either are 100 per cent safe. It is down to the pool owner to ensure safety in and around the pool area.”
Carl Porter, divisional manager at Pollet Pool Group agrees: “Providing that the pool installer or service provider has assessed the situation and made written recommendations, it has to be the responsibility of the pool owner or operator to implement safe practice. “Good practice should be to follow the French law and offer a safety cover, an enclosure or suggest surround fencing – but I cannot imagine the UK following the French norm anytime soon.”
Carl continues: “In my experience from recent years most families would invest in a safety cover, even if it meant lowering the specification on the main pool build in order to afford the cover. In most situations where a cover was not installed then fencing of some kind would be installed.”
Latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum highlight that of the 381 water-related accidental deaths that took place in the UK in 2013, just six were in swimming pools. While it is important to remember that swimming pools are still among the safest places to swim, the NWSF suggests that there is still a greater need to ensure pool safety among bathers and pool owners.
“The use of barriers with self-locking gates that completely isolate the pool is the most effective means of reducing drowning risk at homes with swimming pools,” says David Walker, leisure safety manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
“This has been demonstrated in countries such as Australia and France, where regulations are in place that mandate use of barriers or other equally effective methods. At the same time, lack of willingness to enforce the regulations and unclear/inconsistent advice has been shown to reduce effectiveness of this approach.”
He adds: “Drownings are rare in the home, but they have devastating consequences. We should take this time to review what can and should be done, including the contribution a change in law could have in reducing these drownings. To this end, we are currently speaking to pool manufacturers and groups, and would like to hear the pool industry views.”
Undoubtedly, one of the most effective measures for improving control of access to swimming pools are safety covers.
Currently supplying 200 swimming pool covers every year in the UK, the Ocea brand is one of the major players in the market supplying up to 1,500 units annually across Europe.
Alan Thorne of Ocea UK comments: “Safety is a very difficult area to quantify when it comes to the private and residential market. I think from a design and pool builder perspective on the private market certain safety factors should always be factored into either or outdoor pool.
“Indoor pools have the added benefit of being in a lockable room therefore responsible access to the pool room can be placed on the users of the pool to ensure children are only given access when supervised by an adult. If restricting access to the pool room isn’t enough then the pool design should consider a pool cover that can restrict entry into the water.
“With an outdoor pool, making it statutory to have a barrier around the pool will have the same safety effect of having a lockable room, therefore access can be restricted to the pool area. But like the indoor situation once access is granted there is still a risk as the pool itself is open.”
Alan adds: “Again having an appropriate pool cover is the best solution to safety.”