Watchdog calls for classes in water safety in all schools

Ireland’s water safety watchdog has called for compulsory water safety programmes in all schools after figures in its annual report showed a rise in the number of people who died by drowning.

The Irish Water Safety (IWS) annual report also showed that Cork county had the worst record in the whole country last year for deaths by drowning, and that together Cork City and county accounted for 20 of the 122 drownings in 2015.

Of the deaths by drowning last year, 66 were accidental and 33 by suicide, although the latter figure could be higher as another 23 deaths were defined as undetermined.

Males were much more likely to die by drowning than women, with males accounting for 91 of the 122 deaths in 2015, and certain age groups appear to be at higher risk, particularly those aged between 50 and 59 and people in their twenties — 51 people died across those two age groups last year.

Cork accounted for just under half of the 41 drownings in Munster while 56 people drowned in Leinster. The report also noted that seven Irish people drowned when overseas last year.

General contributory factors include poor or inadequate equipment such as boats or lifejackets, people not wearing a correctly fitting lifejacket, alcohol consumption, falling unexpectedly into water, and an overestimation of skills.

In the foreword to the report, IWS chairwoman Breda Collins said that during summer 2015 lifeguards rescued 418 people from lifeguarded waterways — a decrease in the number for the previous summer which she attributed to “a large degree” to unfavourable weather and as a sign that the public is becoming more aware of the potential dangers.

“Lifeguards located almost 450 lost children and reunited them with their parents and guardians, showing the constant need for constant uninterrupted supervision,” she said.

Remarkably, of the 448 lost children found by lifeguards, 202 were in Co Clare.

The figures show that first aid was administered on 3,837 occasions last year and that 16,519 accidents were prevented. In addition, 14 IWS risk assessments were carried out last year.

The IWS chief executive, John Leech, said just one fifth of all schools teach the Primary Aquatic Water Safety (PAWS) programme, and that the 11 module course, much of which is taught in the classroom, should be compulsory.

He said teaching the course, and changes in parents’ attitudes to safety, would help limit the number of dangerous incidents.

The report also detailed the winners of the SEIKO Just In Time Awards, presented to those who came to the assistance of those in danger of drowning.

Winners included tourist and advanced paramedic Seamus McCarthy, and his girlfriend, Fionnula Quigley, who in April last year spotted Indian tourist Apu Gupta being swept off a rocky ledge on Inis Mór.

Ms Quigley had to run to the nearest house to call for help while Seamus put together a makeshift rescue rope using a jacket and backpack and lowered it to the casualty and pulled her up the cliff face. The woman made a full recovery.


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