Drowning death lessons for all

A CORONER’S report into the drowning death of a boy at Seaford in 2012 has recommended swimming and water safety education should be mandatory at every Victorian primary school.

Nine-year-old Bailey Patman, a pupil at Seaford Primary School, drowned on Thursday 19 January 2012 while playing offshore in the shallows with friends near Seaford Pier.

He was accompanied by the father of one of his friends and four other children.

Bailey was found floating face down in the water after his friends alerted the father that Bailey was missing. The father performed “mouth to mouth” resuscitation on the boy while dragging him closer to shore.

A passing nurse helped administer CPR until paramedics arrived at about 8.30pm. Bailey was pronounced dead at 8.47pm.

The children swimming with Bailey gave evidence indicating he “was not a good swimmer and that he did not like going into the deep water and generally stuck to the shallows. One child stated he [Bailey] could not swim at all.”

Bailey joined Seaford Primary midway through 2011 and missed attending a swimming program held in April. He previously attended Harrisfield Primary School in Noble Park.

Since Bailey’s death Seaford Primary has rescheduled swimming lessons to November and early December.

Principal Michael Browne said this will “enable students to have been involved in an intensive swimming program conducted by trained instructors just prior to the time they would be more likely to be swimming at the beach and backyard swimming pools, and that this would better prepare them for any dangers that they may encounter whilst swimming”.

Bailey’s father, Michael Allan, stated his son had swimming lessons at Noble Park but “was not a very good swimmer”. Bailey’s mother, Kylee Patman, said he “was fearful of deep water and she was able to teach him how to ‘dog paddle’”.

Coroner Caitlin English agreed with a Life Saving Victoria 2013 report Sink or Swim: the state of Victorian primary school children’s swimming ability recommending swimming and water safety be taught as “a compulsory skill” as part of every Victorian primary school’s curriculum.

Life Saving Victoria CEO Nigel Taylor says the Coroner’s recommendation is an important way to address the current lack of swimming and water safety competency of Victorian primary school children.

“Victoria has the lowest reported swimming and water safety competency levels in Australia, with teachers estimating that 60 per cent of students leave primary school unable to swim 50 metres continuously,” he said.

“Drowning is highly preventable. Knowledge of survival swimming and basic water safety skills can significantly reduce the risk of drowning, enhance community safety and build resilient children.”

There were 205 children aged 5-14 in Victorian involved in drowning incidents, including fatalities and hospitalisations, between 2000 and 2013.

“We recommend children under 5 should be within arm’s reach at all times and children under 10 should always be in your sight,” Mr Taylor said.

First published in the Frankston Times – 22 June 2015

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