WAGGA Swimming Club's president Paul Gianniotis has urged parents to teach their children an "essential life skill" after new research found that portable pool drowning disproportionately impacts 16-31-month-old children.
The research, led by the University of NSW and Royal Life Saving Australia and published in early August, found that the disproportion was most prominent in very remote areas and areas classified as having high socioeconomic disadvantage.
It examined the 23 portable pool drowning of children between 2002 and 2018 and found that 20 of them were children between 16 and 31 months old.
It also found that those deaths involved no parental supervision and that drowning rates in very remote areas were 15 times greater than city children.
The research concluded that social factors impact the risk of child drowning in portables pools, which can "occur quickly and in just 150 mm of water" and urges for better supervision and fencing as preventive measures.
Paul Gianniotis said it is essential to teach children to swim to a certain level of competency.
"Whether to swim at club level to compete or not, it's a skill to survive," Mr Gianniotis said.
"You need to do that as early as possible. The sooner kids are put through programs, the better it is."
Mr Gianniotis said that he has heard about others' experiences with portable pool drowning.
"Absolutely it happens," he said.
"There's a level of complacency not seen with swimming down the river or at a decent pool.
"There, parents have eyes on their kids most of the time."
Portable pools can range from small blow-up or plastic paddling or kiddie pools to bigger wading pools, inflatable spas or high-sided flexible plastic pools on a frame.
Addressing lack of research
The research was instigated to address the lack of investigation into portable pool drowning and its prevention.
"Despite much research into causal factors leading to drowning in in-ground swimming pools, there has been a lack of research into the risks posed by portable pools," the article stated.
Amy Peden, senior research fellow at Royal Life Saving and lecturer at UNSW, is one of the research authors and she said that while "the portable issue hasn't claimed as many lives, it is still an important issue to look at due to increasing popularity of these pools".
Ms Peden said legislators, manufacturers and parents need to work together to make sure safety messages about portable pool are followed.
"It does come down to people who purchase the pool sometimes underestimating the risks," she said.
"Children need only a small amount of water to cover their noses and mouths. As the cases show, water wasn't very deep at all."
The research analysed cases sourced primarily from the National Coronial Information System, as well as drowning reports from the media, police, child death review teams and lifesaving organisation.
Ms Peden said that while the data is not completely accurate, it showed that low socioeconomic increases in remote and rural areas, which in turn, increases portable pool drowning.
She also said there is confusion about legislation relating to fencing for portable pools.
"In most states and territories, if a pool is deeper than 30cm, it needs to be fenced," she said.
"But people who purchase portable pools are very unlikely to be spend thousands of dollars on fencing, so we need more education at the point of sale to make consumers think about legislative requirements."
Outside of Australia, the research paper claims that there has been only one other study - in the US.
Authorities join forces
In November last year, Australian consumer law and product safety regulators joined forces with Royal Life Saving Society Australia to remind parents and carers to make portable pools safe.
The collaboration was prompted by statistics showing that on average, one child dies from a portable pool-related drowning every year in Australia while others need hospital treatment and may be left with severe brain injuries.
The society's CEO Justin Scarr said the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report highlights the issue of portable pool drowning and who is most at risk.
"Our statistics show there is one child fatality as a result of a portable pool drowning each year," Mr Scarr said.
"The child is almost always under five-years-old and more likely to be male."
For advice about safety related to portable pools: 'Don't duck out - make your portable pools safe' campaign by Royal Life Saving Society Australia in collaboration with the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety in WA.