2013: A year to make waves on inland water safety?

Some of the most attractive spots in the country are inland water sites – canals, lakes and reservoirs that naturally draw thousands of holidaymakers, sports enthusiasts and families to their shores.

inland water safety WAID RoSPA

“There are around 250 inland water-related deaths a year in the UK. This is a tragic reminder for families and communities and the question of responsibility remains a key issue and is still having a significant impact on our collective ability to manage these risks ” – David Walker.

Their beauty, however, is marred by a stagnant annual death toll of around 250 water-related deaths a year, which remain a tragic reminder for families and communities.

Central to this is the question of responsibility for water safety, particularly along inland waters, which has long been a key issue. One aspect of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents’ (RoSPA) campaign to manage these sites appropriately, has been the development of the aptly named guidance document, Safety at Inland Waters.

Since the first edition of the guidance, a lot has changed in the way we approach managing these sites and what users deem appropriate. In particular, open water swimming and triathlon type events have grown in popularity. Many open water spaces have been transformed from primarily “working docks” environments to leisure and retail facilities which include bars and shops, which are often a tourist attraction in their own right.

Public expectations have changed, and this is reflected in the civil landscape which to some extent has changed in the wake of the Darby v National Trust and Tomlinson V Congleton judgements. These, and subsequent judgements, have signalled a move away from overly paternalistic approaches, demonstrating an increasingly tolerant attitude towards public risk management from the higher courts.

On the  operational and resilience front, we have seen some good improvements, not least in the enhanced and co-ordinated capacity to respond to flood and acute rescue scenarios through the work of DEFRA, DCLG on the Team Typing project and, latterly, by Scottish Resilience following the Tomkins Review in acute rescue.  The wider use of Sustainable urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) schemes has offered managers and developers opportunities for creating new, interesting and environmentally friendly public spaces, along with the associated challenges of managing them.

There has also been a step change in data capture and our understanding of the risks through the National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID).inland water safety WAID RoSPA

So, where does this leave us at the start of 2013?

Unfortunately, we still see an often piecemeal approach to managing inlands sites, and the question of responsibility is still having a significant  impact on our collective ability to manage these risks.

Although, the view from higher courts has, in the main, underlined personal responsibility and promoted the right to take risks, and protect landowners with good management arrangements in place. Wider perceptions may not have caught up. We still, unfortunately all too often, come across the opinion that “elf ‘n’ safety says no”.

This is part of a wider debate, but we have supported the work that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has done in this and aligned areas, particularly the statements on children’s play and their approach to enforcement of leisure risks. However, there is still a long way to go with this, and others need to step into the debate before there is a step change.

On a practical level, we are involved or leading a number of projects which address this issue.

RoSPA has recently supported the British Mountaineering Council’s work addressing concerns arising from occupiers’ liability, and will continue to work with landowners, sports governing bodies, leading insurance providers and groups to tackle the misconceptions. While in its role as executive support to the National Water Safety Forum, RoSPA will be looking at how more organisations can become involved and help contribute both to WAID and the range of issues that need to be overcome.

Our inland risk analysis is also being updated and will contribute to a wider national analysis in the spring. This is underpinned by the RoSPA BNFL scholarship scheme.

A key project is the re-draft of Safety at Inland Water sites, which will run for the majority of the year.

So there is plenty going on in 2013, hopefully this will all come together to finally start addressing that stubborn, relentless toll of deaths at our inland water sites.

For more information on the projects mentioned above, you can contact me or the department at leisurehelp@rospa.com.

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager

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