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Research sheds light on supervision issues at public aquatic facilities

Research sheds light on supervision issues at public aquatic facilities
March 1, 2021

Royal Life Saving WA is reminding parents about the importance of closely supervising their children while attending Western Australia’s many public aquatic centres.

The reminder follows new Edith Cowan University (ECU) research that highlight’s the quality of supervision at public swimming pools in Western Australia, with study identifying that almost one quarter of caregivers distracted by mobile phones, and women faring worse than men.

The ECU research, which was conducted in conjunction with Royal Life Saving WA, is the first published study to identify links between mobile phone use among caregivers and inadequate supervision at public swimming pools. Researchers observed 449 children and their carers at two Western Australian public swimming pools and conducted 10 in-depth interviews with parents about their own perceptions of their supervision responsibilities and the barriers to supervision.

Overall supervision levels differed with gender, with only 44% of female caregivers providing ideal supervision, compared with 72% of male caregivers. Of the caregivers observed using their mobile phones (22%), none provided ideal supervision.

Edith Cowan University lead researcher and honours graduate Nicole Wickens said the main distractions included mobile phone use, interacting with other adults, being responsible for multiple children, and the pool environment which could be busy and noisy.

Watkins explained “parents who were responsible for one child, rather than multiple children were more than twice as likely to provide ideal supervision.”

Social interaction with other adults was the second biggest distractor behind mobile phones.

Western Australia’s public swimming pools are a well-used community resource, with 10.3 million people visiting these facilities in the 2019/20 financial year.

However, Royal Life Saving WA Senior Manager Health Promotion and Research Lauren Nimmo says unfortunately there is a misconception with some parents and carers that their responsibility diminishes at public pools due to the presence of lifeguards.

Nimmo advises “even though lifeguards are on duty at public pools, parents still have a crucial role to play in the supervision of children when visiting these facilities. Lifeguards certainly play an important safety role; however, they can’t have eyes everywhere. It’s not about shifting responsibility, it’s about having both parents and lifeguards working together to keep children safe - Parents supervise, lifeguards save lives.”

In more than two thirds of drowning cases involving children, supervision was absent for five to 10 minutes, with many people saying it was only absent for a few minutes - yet a child can drown in less than 20 seconds.

Nimmo adds “drowning happens quickly and silently often in the short time when supervision is absent as a result of parents being distracted. Supervision needs to be active and uninterrupted - you can’t be sitting on your phone or talking with other parents.

“There are many additional distractions at public pools that don’t exist at other waterways - large crowds and busy pools increase the likelihood that a parent may become distracted and lose sight of their child which can have tragic consequences.”

249 Australians lost their lives to drowning in 2019/20 and it is estimated that a further 504 people also experienced a non-fatal drowning incident.

Royal Life Saving partners with the Leisure Institute of WA (LIWA) to promote the Watch Around Water program, which educates parents about the need for close supervision of their children at public pools.

Click here for more information on the program.

Lower image: in 2018, LIWA Aquatics' Watch Around Water campaign used this image to remind parents to focus on the safety of their children.

Related Articles

25th November 2020 - AUSTSWIM announces record number of teachers of swimming and water safety

23rd November 2020 - Royal Life Saving’s latest Keep Watch campaign highlights tragic drowning toll among children aged under 12 months

16th November 2020 - LIWA Aquatics Regional Seminar marks return of face-to-face events

6th October 2020 - Royal Life Saving concerned over significant fall in swimming lesson enrolments

7th September 2020 - LIWA Aquatics partners with Australasian Leisure Management

5th September 2020 - Surf Life Saving WA prepares for busy beaches with return of helicopter services

9th June 2020 - Western Australian children return to swimming lessons

14th May 2020 - National Aquatic Industry Safety Committee endorses new risk management guidelines for swim schools and aquatic facilities

20th April 2020 - New facility in Margaret River to become training hub for Surf Life Saving WA

25th March 2020 - Aquatic sector could lose $900 million in revenue as Prime Minister Morrison advises that all commercial pools must close

9th March 2020 - Royal Life Saving WA releases REFLECT Reconciliation Action Plan

4th March 2020 - Balgo Remote Aboriginal Swimming Pool gets official opening

19th December 2019 - Royal Life Saving WA partners with LIWA Aquatics to stress water safety vigilance over summer holidays

29th January 2019 - ECU wins Olympic selection to study sport injury prevention

12th October 2018 - Life Saving Victoria’s Watch Around Water urges parents to put their down phones when at the pool

7th September 2018 - German lifeguards warn that child drownings linked to parents’ smartphone ‘fixation’

16th August 2018 - Royal Life Saving WA provides Swim and Survive program for CaLD children 

16th December 2016 - Watch Around Water gets season launch

9th March 2016 - LIWA Aquatics to present new Watch Around Water ‘Facility of the Year’ Award

14th January 2015 - 10 million annual visits to public pools in Western Australia

10th December 2015 - New report shows toddlers still have highest drowning risk

29th August 2011 - Lifeguards are not babysitters!: Watch Around Water launches new website


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