Why are so many children drowning in hotel swimming pools and theme parks?

Dr Amar-Singh HSS

Modified 4 Nov 2019, 7:41 am

LETTER | Drowning is a major cause of death among children in Malaysia, ranking second after road traffic injuries, for children aged 1-18 years. Five hundred children drown each year in our country.

Although the majority of children drown in recreational sites like the sea, river and ponds, a sizable number drown at home or in hotel swimming pools and theme parks.

I would like us to focus on these easily preventable deaths that occur at hotel swimming pools and theme parks. The National Drowning Registry maintained by the Clinical Research Centre Perak showed that, for the year 2018, there were 66 children that drowned in these locations.

More than 90 percent of these deaths occurred in children under 10 years, and especially in children under the age of five (42 children were five years or younger). The vast majority of these young children drowned in hotel swimming pools and a few in our theme parks. These deaths are clustered around school holidays when families take vacations.

It is tragic to lose a young child to such a preventable cause of death. The deaths are usually due to a failure of adequate provision of safety by the hotels/theme parks and/or a transition lapse in parenting.

The fact that the childhood drowning epidemic has been halted in many developed countries suggests that we can do it as well. We can prevent such drowning deaths in future if we work together and have safety standards in place.

It is not acceptable that hotels just have signs that inform guests to “be responsible for their own safety when using the swimming pool”. The time has come to stop hotels and theme parks from denying their responsibility and work on improving safety. Failing which, I am certain, the hotels/theme parks will be increasingly held liable for these preventable deaths on their premises.

Some of the minimum safety standards that hotels and theme parks should maintain at all times:

1. All swimming pools should have fencing around all four sides to prevent accidental entry by a young child. There should be a self-latching (automatic) gate.

2. All hotels with swimming pools and theme parks with pools must have an adequate number of trained lifeguards available whenever they are operational. At other times, there should be no access to the water. It is important to define what constitutes proper lifeguard training and I hope hotels will work with the Lifesaving Society for proper training.

3. Children less than five years of age should routinely be offered lifeguard approved flotation devices. These should not be the plastic toy ones (“water wings”) found in shops but a well-fitting lifeguard-approved life jacket.

Steps that parents need to take to prevent drowning at hotels and theme parks:

1. Never let your child near any swimming pool or theme park unsupervised. No child should be allowed into the water without an accompanying adult.

2. Keep your handphone away and don’t look at it even if it rings. It only takes a few seconds for a young child to drown. Forget your phone and remember your children when they are at the swimming pool or theme park. Don't worry about taking nice pictures or selfies, think instead of your child’s safety; keep these pictures in your heart.

3. It is valuable for all parents to acquire some basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills that include rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth breathing) and chest compression.

4. Teaching your child to swim has been found to reduce drowning and is a valuable investment in your child’s life.

The data from just the past two years have suggested that, over the years, hundreds of children have drowned at our hotel swimming pools and theme parks. I would appeal to all of us not to neglect this risk to our children and work towards preventing it. Parents, please take care at this year’s end of school holidays.

DR AMAR-SINGH HSS is a senior consultant paediatrician.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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