real life

Backyard swimming pools should be banned

With drowning in backyard pools accounting for so many child deaths in Australia, is it time to ban backyard pools? Jo Abi says yes.

Drowning is one of the leading cause of death in children under five with majority of those deaths occurring in backyard pools. So why haven’t backyard pools been banned? If any other product or activity caused so many injuries and deaths in our most vulnerable they would be banned, there would be lawsuits, there would be outrage. Except backyard pools are an intrinsic part of Australian culture, and it’s costing us children’s lives.

According to Kidsafe, an average of two Australian children drown each week. Most are under 5 years of age and more than half drown in backyard pools. “The children at greatest risk  are toddlers, aged 1-3, and for them drowning is the single most common cause of death”. This statistic doesn’t account for the number of near drownings, many of which result in brain injuries.

Westmead Children’s Hospital confirms that in NSW alone, from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011, 12 children under five died from drowning and a further 64 were admitted to hospital for near drowning. “Children under five years of age have the highest mortality rate out of any age group, with approximately 50% of drowning deaths occurring in swimming pools.”

Backyard pools need to be banned. They are way too dangerous. It doesn't matter if you have a pool fence, locks on your back door, are super vigilant, have children who can swim. Drowning deaths and backyard pool related injuries are too frequent for us to ignore.

Ask yourself this. How many children's lives would be saved if backyard pools were banned? 31 last year, and that doesn't account for those children who were saved but suffered brain damage.

The Royal Life Saving Society confirms swimming pools account for the largest proportion of drowning deaths in children aged under 5. "Swimming pools continue to account for the largest proportion of drowning deaths in this age group, representing 61% of all drowning deaths in children aged 0-4 years. Swimming pools are also the only location which has increased this year when compared to the 10 year average."

Bathing accounts for 13% of all drowning deaths in children under five. So, should bathing be banned, buckets, shallow pools, puddles after the rain? Probably not, but banning backyard pools is a the simplest way to arrest this shocking statistic and save hundreds, if not thousands of children's lives.

Every time I discuss this with a friend they explain to me why their backyard pool is safe. They are kidding themselves. For every safety measure mentioned there are hundreds of stories where this safety measure has failed.

"We have a pool fence"

Children push furniture against the gate and figure out how to open it, it's left open accidentally, the gate breaks or is faulty or the child enters the enclosure under adult supervision, falls in while the adult watches on and although they are quickly retrieved has inhaled enough water to cause serious injury.

"I watch them really carefully"

Be honest with yourself. Seriously, how vigilant can human beings really be? You can be watching your children while sitting poolside and be distracted by other children fighting, a commotion of some kind, the phone ringing, needing to use the toilet. There are also countless cases of 'silent drowning' where a child drowns without there being any outward signs that it's occurring. They look like they are swimming, or playing.


"My children are great swimmers"

Children have no awareness of how quickly they can injure themselves and each other. My son is a good swimmer however during a swim in his best friend's pool, the best friend decided to jump on his back in the water. My son ingested a lungful of water due to the shock and I had to rescue him. Kids can also dive into shallow ends or slip and fall.

There's also the multiple cases of younger family members falling victims to backyard pools during visits. Families sit down for lunch and next thing they know the two-year-old has wandered off. Where do you think some of these two-year-old's are found? In the backyard pool.

"I know how to do CPR"

It's scary the number of parents haven't done a basic first aid course. Many completed one years ago but have never used it and never updated it. For example, did you know that chest compression are now prioritised over breathing? It used to be the reverse.

All parents should do a basic first aid course. I think it should be included in the schedule of workshops offered in hospital maternity wards. But even then, imagine trying to revive your own child who has drowned. Do you really think you'd be able to revive them properly while dealing this the hysteria and shock you'd be feeling?

Also, many people don't perform CPR correctly and the method is different depending on the age of the child. There's also the sad reality that if a young child has drowned, even if they are revived, damage is already done. Permanent brain damage or death can occur in minutes.

A report released by the Royal Life Saving Society states there has been a 50 per cent increase in children drowning this past year. The report cites lack of adult supervision as the number one issue. "Royal Life Saving says many of the incidents occur when adults are distracted, or mistakenly think someone else is supervising their child." The next main reason children drown in backyard pools is faulty or propped-open pool gates.

Do we really need to keep going?

What really bothers me about this whole debate is the reason people want pools in the first place. They seem like fun, they'll entertain the kids, they make the backyard look amazing, they are a symbol of success, Australians love water. Pools are awesome.

The question remains are backyard pools really worth the price we are paying as a nation?

For me, the answer is simple. Absolutely not.

Fireworks are banned and never resulted in the number of deaths drowning does. It makes no sense.

Drowning deaths in Australia aren't just a summer time problem. They occur all year around. In 2012/2013 summer deaths from drowning in all waterways accounted for 101 in Summer, 70 in Autumn, 64 in Spring and 56 in Winter. February is the month during which most children drown.

The problem is so great that states and territories in Australia have been attempting to improve legislation aimed at enforcing swimming pool fencing and other safety measures, but they are fighting a losing battle. Drowning deaths continue to grow.

Should backyard swimming pools be banned or is this a step too far?

Watch Jo discuss the proposed ban on Wake Up on Ten.

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