Bulletin #040 - Coroner wants safety at pools legally enforceable     

Coroner wants safety at pools legally enforceable
Queensland Times, Page: 9
Saturday, 25 August 2007
THE CORONER in the inquest into the drowning of a toddler at a Goodna pool has recommended safety standards at public pools be legally enforceable.

Yesterday Coroner Matthew McLaughlin delivered his findings into the death of Matthew Cohn Case, 3, at the Goodna Aquatic Centre on September 24, 2005.

Mr McLaughlin said the cause of death was drowning and Matthew died when he got into an adult public pool while unsupervised.

Unnoticed, Matthew sank to the bottom of the pool where he was later discovered lying motionless, Mr McLaughlin said.

Ipswich Coroners Court was told Matthew ís mother, Kelly Case, had paid for her children to enter the complex then left in her car.

The inquest was told there was one employee, a qualified lifeguard, at the complex at the time, mainly occupied serving in the kiosk and charging entrance fees, and no lifeguard on duty because the pool was in "low patronage mode" fewer than 50 people in the water at one time.

Under Royal Life Saving Society guidelines, which are not mandatory, a lifeguard must be present at all times, but is not required to supervise swimmers in times of low patronage.

Entrance signs advised there was no lifeguard on duty, any person aged 12 or under had to be accompanied by someone 18 or over, and parents had to supervise children at all times.

Mr McLaughlin made five recommendations, including that minimum safety standards at public pools should be made enforceable by the Department of Industrial Relations implementing a code of practice.

He recommended this include a requirement for a regular head count of people in the water with the number of small children and weak swimmers taken into account when allocating lifeguards.

Mr McLaughlin also called for a central data base to collate statistics of all significant safety incidents and a mandatory reporting system for incidents.

He also recommended that Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) redefine their involvement in such matters.

"If they are to have any meaningful function, they need to spell out what operators need to do to achieve acceptable safety standards and they also need to conduct reviews to ensure compliance with their directions." Mr McLaughlin said the WHS prohibition notice issued and subsequent investigation appeared largely a waste of time.

He noted WHS rightly identified in a report the operator failed to stop the unaccompanied Case children entering the complex and there were inadequate practices to ensure the operator remained aware of the number of people present and in the pool.

Pool management, Australian Crawl Pty Ltd, gave evidence at the inquest they had now implemented a practice of regular head counts of people in the water so more staff could be called to duty if needed.

Mr McLaughlin said he accepted Mrs Case was a loving parent and her decision to leave the children at the pool was a tragic error of judgement, but there was no escaping that if Matthew had been properly supervised by an adult, he would in all probability not have drowned.

In his published findings, Mr McLaughlin said he was unable to accept Mrs Case ís evidence that the pool attendant said he would "keep an eye" on her children and was satisfied she left the younger children under the supervision of the older children only. He was also satisfied the younger children should not have been allowed in to the pool complex.

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