Call for water safety classes to be mandatory in schools

Quarries are ‘absolutely lethal’ and ‘incredibly dangerous’ for swimmers of all abilities

A rescue worker at an old quarry near Roslevan, Ennis, where two teenagers got into difficulty on Thursday. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Mandatory water safety classes must be introduced in Irish schools, Irish Water Safety has said.

John Leech, chief executive of Irish Water Safety, warned on Friday that until all teachers received the necessary training, children would continue to be at risk while swimming around the country.

"It's on the Department of Education syllabus but if the school teacher is not interested in water safety then regrettably they send the students off to soccer training instead," Mr Leech told The Irish Times. "We're trying to make it mandatory but the Minister doesn't seem to want that which is a huge shame.

“Parents should be demanding that water safety is taught in schools and we’d appeal to all school teachers to do the online training course of the summer.”

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Mr Leech’s comments come following the deaths of two 15-year-olds who drowned while swimming in a quarry in Co Clare on Thursday.

He said that regardless of ability, swimmers should never swim in quarries or any other artificial bodies of water, describing them as “lethal” and “incredibly dangerous”.

“They’re steep sided and very deep and getting back out of the water is very difficult,” he said. “Quarries are never used for swimming. There is only one in the country used for dive training and that’s completely different. Quarries are absolutely lethal. Every time there’s a heat wave someone drowns in a quarry.”

Contrary to popular belief quarries tend not contain silt at the bottom but are made up of rock, said Mr Leech. He added that some landowners had dyed the water in a quarry a different colour to deter swimmers but that many people both in the Ireland and Britain continue to ignore all the warning signs.

Some 62 per cent of all drownings in Ireland occur at inland water sites. In 2016, a total of 123 people drowned in Irish waters while in 2015 there were 122 drownings.

Reservoirs

Mr Leech said swimming in reservoirs, such as the Poulaphouca Reservoir in Blessington, Co Wicklow, was also extremely dangerous. "The water level is changing so quickly. Suddenly the flow in the river could speed up and within minutes you have a strong current running down the river."

People should never swim alone, he added. “It’s the buddy system. If you get into trouble you need someone there to assist you. The first rule of life saving is don’t put your own life in danger, use the ring buoy and other equipment to save them.”

Irish Water Safety’s warm weather advice for bathers includes swimming within your depth and always ensuring there is a ring buoy in a yellow box near the water. Swimmers should also make sure the edges of the water are shallow so that they can safely and easily enter and exit the water. Anyone who has consumed alcohol should stay away from the water.

Lifeguards will be present on Irish beaches from Friday, June 1st, until September 15th for the duration of the 2018 bathing season.

For more information on water safety visit http://www.iws.ie/

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast