Toddler drownings in backyard pools: gates are the major problem
Faulty gates are the major cause of toddler drownings in backyard pools in Australia according to Kids Alive founder Laurie Lawrence.
Kids Alive is a drowning prevention organisation founded by Lawrence following his retirement as an Australian Olympic swimming coach almost 30 years ago.
Says Lawrence: “While we advocate our ‘Do The Five’, which is five key ways to protect toddlers around pools – fencing, gates, learning to swim, supervision and resuscitation – it’s worth bringing to people’s attention the underlying problems related to pool gates. We can do much better when it comes to safeguarding gates.”
Citing a 2015 report into backyard child drownings by a team convened and supported by the NSW Ombudsman, the sobering-named Child Death Review Team, Laurie Lawrence said:
“Part of the report explained that out of 32 fenced pools that were investigated during one period almost all had one or more faults that could potentially allow a child to access the pool area.”
The gate was identified as the weakest link, that was where the majority of children who drowned gained access to the pool.
Almost all of the pools had reported faults with the pool gate or latch mechanism, which, in most cases, meant that gate did not self-close. Issues included no self-closing mechanism and damaged latch mechanisms. A faulty gate or latch mechanism was identified as the child’s likely access point to the pool area in 21 cases.
“That’s terrible…and preventable,” said Lawrence
According to Lawrence, another common and annoying problem with pool gates is that they are often propped open by older children and adults, providing unauthorized toddler access to the pool area. This, he says, opens up the dangerous pool to inquisitive tots, whose entry into the pool is mostly “silent”, providing almost no notification to parents or carers.
At a media event conducted by Laurie Lawrence and Kids Alive in the Sydney suburb of Mosman on January 24, 2017, Lawrence told the assembled television and print journalists that nothing can replace adult supervision when it comes to protecting toddlers around pools. But he was quick to highlight a new Australian innovation that will contribute significantly to the safety and efficacy of pool gates.
“I’ve long been a supporter of the Australian-made MagnaLatch magnetic pool gate latch,” Lawrence said. “It was a game changer when it came out over 20 years ago, and I know it has saved many, many lives during that time. And the people behind the latch, D&D Technologies, have long been a supporter of Kids Alive and all that we do.”
“But the clever people at D&D, frustrated by these ongoing issues with pool gates, have just released a MagnaLatch with built-in alarms! They’ve called it the MagnaLatch ALERT, because every time a gate is entered a single, distinctive beep sounds, notifying parents that someone is entering their pool area.
“If the gate is held open for more than 15 seconds the alarm siren will ramp up, and so the gate has to be closed to stop the alarm. I think this is a remarkable breakthrough for child safety in Australia and around the world. It’s a combined latch and alarm in one, convenient unit and it simply screws on to your gate.”
Laurie Lawrence insisted that with this new technology being developed it will make a critical difference to pool gate safety and pool owners should take every step possible to make their backyard pool safe for all children.
Kids Alive along with other drowning prevention advocates such as Royal Life and Life Saving Australia had made great inroads into lowering backyard drownings over the past 30 years.
“Since the year 2000 toddler drownings in backyard pools in Australia have dropped from an unthinkable 63 deaths per year to 21 in 2015-16. That’s a great result, but 21 is still too many – and every one of those deaths is ultimately preventable. Twenty one kids is still a busload of kids, and the very thought of these children and the burden placed on their families is what drives me day in, day out.”