By Stephen Doyle, father of 2 boys, loves surfing, fishing, canoeing and mountain biking. An avid rugby fan and general manager of PowerPlastics Pool Covers
When my oldest boy was 3yrs old, he took a plastic chair and a brick, wedged the bottom half of the pool fence gate open with the brick, then climbed on a chair to unlock the top latch and slipped in. The gate closed behind him and the pool was uncovered. Fortunately I was watching and acted immediately. I was lucky but not all parents are.
Drowning remains one of the top causes of unnatural childhood death in South Africa. According to recent statistics, nearly 72% of near-drownings occur around the home and only 1.22% at the beach. Three-year-old children seem particularly vulnerable and constitute almost half the total. Furthermore, for every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage from the lack of oxygen that occurs in a near-drowning.
Drowning is commonly a silent event. The child makes no noise to alert their parent or carer. Babies can drown in just a few centimetres of water in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee.
Overseas, pool safety is a legislative issue and pool builders are obliged by law to advise on and fit adequate safety measures to any pool they
install. South Africa has at last tabled similar municipal by-laws but this has merely resulted in heated debates and petitions about the proposed legislation, not in any decisive action. Yet.
“There are massive discrepancies when one compares safety legislation in other industries. The motor industry is not allowed to manufacture vehicles without seatbelts and neither can the chemical industry be negligent with hazardous substances. Open pools are equally dangerous A solid safety pool cover is the most effective physical layer of safety, as long as it has drainage holes to avoid rain or sprinkler-water forming a small puddle on top of the cover. Just a few millimetres of water can be fatal to a curious child.
But a cover only saves lives if it is actually on the pool. Being lazy about re-securing a pool after use is surprisingly common. The new safety covers on the market are hassle-free and without hooks and eyelets – no brute force required which is great news for Moms! Next time you ‘can’t be bothered’, consider the alternative – retrieving a lifeless child from your pool due to your negligence?
Even if one doesn’t have children, it is still crucial to consider safety for visitors. Often toddlers unaccustomed to being near pools are most at risk. Families living in residential complexes with a communal pool should insist that their body corporate install a safety cover.
It might be more socially acceptable to label child drowning as ‘accidental’ but strip the sugar-coating and what you’re left with is actually involuntary manslaughter. And that is not a label anyone wants to wear.