On average one child dies from a portable pool-related drowning every year in Australia, while others need hospital treatment and may be left with severe brain injuries. These statistics have prompted Australian Consumer Law and product safety regulators to join forces with Royal Life Saving Society - Australia to remind parents and carers to make portable pools SAFE.
Portable pools – ranging from small blow-up or plastic paddling or kiddie pools to bigger wading pools, inflatable spas or high-sided flexible plastic pools on a frame – can be popular in summer as a cheap alternative to below-ground pools BUT they’re just as dangerous.
“It’s timely to warn West Australians about the drowning risk associated with portable pools as the weather warms up and you perhaps consider buying a portable pool for your backyard, or as a Christmas gift,” Consumer Protection Commissioner David Hillyard said.
“We partnered with Royal Life Saving in 2014/15 to run a campaign called ‘Make It Safe’. Now we’re collaborating again, with the added reminder of ‘Don’t Duck Out’ of the responsibilities you take on when you buy a portable pool, which may include putting up a safety barrier. Anyone thinking about purchasing a portable pool should take a few minutes to check out www.productsafety.gov.au/makeitsafe.”
Royal Life Saving Society – Western Australia CEO, Peter Leaversuch says their annual National Drowning Report highlights the issue of portable pool drowning and who is most at risk. “Our statistics show there is one child fatality as a result of a portable pool drowning each year. The child is almost always under five-years-old and more likely to be male.
“We don’t want any deaths or hospitalisations due to drowning this summer. Adults following the Don’t Duck Out, Make It SAFE tips, such as keeping constant watch of kids around portable pools, can reduce the risk and potentially save lives.”
Supervise. Actively watch children within arm’s reach. Don’t leave older children in charge.
Act. Learn emergency first aid including CPR. It’s important to start compressions and breaths as soon as possible when a child is pulled from the water and to call triple zero (000) for help. If there are two people, one should make the phone call while the other does CPR.
Fence. In WA, and most of Australia, pools with more than 30cm of water in, are legally required to have a compliant safety barrier. Check with your local Council.
Empty and store safely. After keeping watch all day, pour out water and put the pool away where children can’t reach. Never leave it where it can refill with rain or sprinkler water.
Phillipa Wirangi’s almost 2-year-old son, Eli, drowned in a portable pool in Perth in December 2015. He was revived but suffered severe brain damage and passed away two years later, in December 2017. Ms Wirangi supports the Don’t Duck Out, Make It Safe campaign and the supervision, first aid and fencing messages it promotes.
“Eli was staying with relatives; the person watching him had the back door open and went inside for a phone call. Eli managed to pull a plastic chair to the edge of a portable pool, climb up and fall in. It can happen that quickly. You have to watch kids all the time around water! And I think kids aren’t as scared of portable pools as they can look like a big bath tub.
“Thankfully Eli’s relatives knew CPR and were able to keep Eli alive until the ambulance arrived. But even after months in hospital, when he came home he needed constant care and would never recover from the brain trauma. Our lives were changed. I’d say just don’t get a portable pool, it’s not worth it. But if you do get one, you must fence it.”
Under the Australian Consumer Law, portable pools and their packaging are required to have labels drawing the buyer’s attention to drowning risk, the need for active supervision, proper storage and local fencing laws. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and state and territory consumer protection regulators enforce product safety labelling laws by carrying out inspections of portable pools at retailers. Since July 2018 Consumer Protection WA has visited about 50 stores and checked more than 290 portable pools; inspectors found only one paddling pool and one inflatable spa were not compliant. Suppliers of portable pools failing to comply with the mandatory standard can face hefty penalties.
If you spot a portable pool without a warning label you should report that to Consumer Protection by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Don’t Duck Out, Make It SAFE campaign has involved work with some major Australian retailers to display warning sign shelf wobblers or flyers in store and / or put stickers on portable pool boxes at the point of sale when the purchaser is paying for the product. Rubber duck children’s toys with the campaign slogan are also available along with fridge magnets for parents and carers and are being given away in the community to the target audience.
The campaign is supported by a number of drowning prevention ambassadors including Melanie Mitchell who lost her almost 3-year-old son Lachlan after he drowned in pool when unsupervised during day care at a home in Perth’s northern suburbs in 2015.