When a drowning statistic turns out to be someone you know, the impact is life-changing, says Drowning Prevention Auckland’s Chief Executive Nicola Keen-Biggelaar.
“The feeling of hurt is enormous. They are no longer a statistic or number you hear on the news or read about in the media,” Nicola says.
Having started with Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) two months ago, Nicola has seen first-hand the impact of a death by drowning has.
One of her son’s friends drowned in a private swimming pool in North Auckland over Waitangi weekend, 2017. He was two.
“His death rocked our daycare family. The feeling of hurt and outpouring of grief was felt widespread within our small community.”
After learning of the tragic news, Nicola went home and tipped out her own portable pool.
“My attitude around water safety increased dramatically that day.”
The portable pool was thrown out and Nicola made swimming lessons mandatory for her three young children.
“When a tragic loss occurs your attitude and behaviour changes.
“When I’m at a public pool, I never take my phone with me so there’s no distractions. I make sure I am the one supervising at all time ... not leaving it to the lifeguards.”
Supervision is critical and one of DPA’s main messages for under-fives, Nicola says.
“Toddlers are curious and will wander off that’s why it’s so important for parents and caregivers to keep watch of their children when playing near water. Within sight and reach without distraction.”
In the period 1 January 2014 – 31 December 2018, there were 82 preventable drowning fatalities in the Auckland Region, according to Water Safety New Zealand’s DrownBase.
Of those, six were aged under five.
“One drowning is one drowning too many.”
Jeff Fahrensohn, who manages Auckland Council’s pool inspection teams, says more than 28,000 pools are registered with Auckland Council.
All pools require safety inspections every three years, and the council urges pool owners to carry out their own maintenance and inspections more regularly, to ensure ongoing safety.
Jeff says over 40 per cent of the inspections fail because of basic lack of maintenance, so it’s important that pool owners get out and check their fencing.
“The biggest causes of inspection failures are faulty gates, and climbable objects, such as pots and garden furniture, too near the pool fence,” he says.
Swimming Pool Fence Assessor Margaret Lacey has worked for the council for 20 years and loves her job.
“Knowing that we are helping to save lives is the biggest plus in this role and we need to keep focused on this,” she says.
Margaret admits pool fencing regulations were “not always popular” with some homeowners.
“Sometimes we deal with a lot of conflict as pool owners don’t always agree with our requests, however we do get to meet some really nice positive owners who make our jobs a lot easier… we also get to see some of the most amazing homes in Auckland.”
She says the most enjoyable aspect of her role is knowing she is helping keep the community safe.
“We are here to help with advice on how to keep your pool safe not just to find things wrong with the pool fencing as some people believe.”
Her advice for pool owners is simple.
“First and foremost, always supervise young children around pools, don’t be complacent, even if you don’t have young children you never know who will be visiting your property."
Swimming Pool Fence Assessor Phil Curtis agrees with his colleague, working to save lives of children is what he is most proud about.
“As well as supervising your children at all times people need to make sure their fencing is in good condition. We are here to help and any information or interaction we can give makes our work worthwhile.”
This month, the council’s summer pool safety begins, sharing these important messages:
- Stay close to children when playing around water
- Eyes on! Don’t get distracted
- Never prop pool gates open
- Check your gate latches are working
- Empty portable pools when not in use
To see if your pool is safe, you can find our full inspection checklist and safety videos online.