Water Safety - Drowning Prevention Week and proposed IOSH/RIG Event

25 June 2015

This week being 'Drowning Prevention Week' it is appropriate that IOSH Rural Industries Group (RIG) should announce a proposed Networking Event to be held in the autumn on 'Safe Working on Water'.

This week (20-28 June 2015) was designated 'Drowning Prevention Week' by the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS). This national campaign aims to reduce the number of drowning and near-drowning incidents that occur in the UK every year, by showing people how to be safe near water.

It is a sad fact that around 400 people needlessly drown in the UK every year.  Thousands more suffer injury - some life changing - through near-drowning experiences. Putting this into context, one person dies every 20 hours in the UK and drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death of children in the UK.

RLSS UK have produced free resources to help teach water safety, and Information Packs were also produced, containing a disc with their downloadable resources on it, together with stickers, magnets, colouring-in sheets, posters and leaflets. These packs are free but there is a slight charge to cover postage and packaging. They may still be available to order from Lifesavers Direct.

HSE prosecution of Farming Company following drowning of two brothers

In this tragic 2011 incident, a 17 year-old student fell from a small boat while retrieving dead geese shot the previous evening as part of a cull on a wildlife lake at Wicken, Cambs. His 22 year-old brother (who was not employed) was watching from the lake side and saw his brother get into difficulty. He swam out to rescue his brother but despite reaching him, they both drowned. Their bodies were recovered a significant time later by the Emergency Services.

HSE’s investigation found no life jacket or training in the use of a boat had been provided.

The site was owned and managed on behalf of a Trust by a local farming partnership, AC, PC, & RC Green.  They had engaged the student (as a ‘self-employed contractor’).  They were prosecuted by HSE on 14 February 2014 and fined £60,000 + ordered to pay £31,252 in costs, after pleading guilty to breaching s4(2) of HSW Act 1974.

After the hearing, the investigating HSE Inspector Peter Burns* said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident that has taken the lives of two loving brothers and devastated their family and friends.  Had Luke (Yardy) been wearing a simple flotation aid, like a life jacket, then he would not have drowned, and Ashley would not have needed to attempt a rescue.”

In response to this case Alan Plom (RIG’s Vice Chair) wrote an article 'Still Waters Run Deep' published in Safety and Health Practitioner, March 2015.. This highlighted the significant implications for managing operations on water, and an apparent gap in available training.  Alan bravely invited organisations to ‘prove him wrong’!

Proposed RIG Networking Event

This challenge led to this proposed Networking Event, currently being organised by IOSH (RIG) in association with the Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) and Waterwise Training Ltd. Both responded positively to the SHP article and wrote to IOSH recognising the need for more to be done in terms of developing and promoting safe working on or near water.

They also felt that `Occupational Water Safety' has been somewhat neglected as a discipline of Health and Safety Management  and offered to work together with IOSH to raise awareness of the issues and suitable practical precautions, and to further develop and share their respective recently developed ‘occupational’ training packages.

RLSS are a founding and active member of the National Water Safety Forum (along with the Canal and Rivers Trust), and have developed the `National Water Safety Management Programme' (NWSMP).  Waterwise have also developed a training package [the 'WaterWise Training Foundation Course'] on behalf of The Land & Water Group (leading inland dredging and waterway maintenance contractors) and the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways). Some other individuals involved in water-safety related training also contacted the author and will be invited to the event.

Provisionally entitled Occupational Water Safety - a new Frontier?, this will be another of RIG’s ‘workshop’ type Networking Events, ie aiming to encourage sharing of good practice and including practical demonstrations. It will also be relevant to a wide range of other industry sectors/IOSH Industry Groups and further details will be widely published via IOSH Connect, asap. If you are interested and think you can help, please contact Alan Plom via email.  Thank you.

*PS.  A sad footnote to this article is that soon after completing his investigation and successful prosecution, HSE Inspector Peter Burns fell ill and subsequently died of oesophageal cancer in December 2014, aged 58.  Alan Plom was one of Peter’s early line-managers in HSE, and his article was published in Peter’s memory.

Alan added: “If it prompts suitable precautions to be taken and prevents another fatality, then this will be a fitting tribute to Peter’s personal dedication to reducing risks for those at work. The proposed Workshop will go some way towards helping achieve this. Please support it.”