Public swimming and public liability: rights and responsibilities

Its summer, which probably means your kids are keen to get into the water and have fun. But dont let them dive in unless you know its safe to do so.

Swimming is part of the great Australian summer experience, but before you let your kids into the water you should take a few moments to consider their safety. Sadly, 403 children under the age of five died in Australian waterways between 2002 and 2015. As a parent or guardian, there are several things you can do to avoid incidents or take quick action if something does go wrong.

Safety considerations

Supervision is the top priority when taking your child swimming, and this is your responsibility as a parent or guardian. Its vital to keep a constant watch on any children in your care while they are in the water; you will want to make sure action is taken as soon as something goes wrong.

If youre going to a public pool or beach, there may be lifeguards present. You should always follow the directions of these lifeguards, particularly when it comes to matters such as swimming between the flags and observing safety guidelines. Let your kids know that they should listen to the lifeguards.

Think about your childs swimming abilities its wise to introduce kids to the water in a safe, supervised manner. This could involve swimming lessons from an early age, so that they are comfortable and capable in water environments. Depending on the needs of your child, safety equipment (such as flotation devices) can be purchased and used in public pools or beaches, which can help to prevent incidents from occurring.

Parents' responsibilities around water

Public pools can often be crowded, particularly during the heat of summer, so parents should keep a watchful eye on any children in their care. Even when lifeguards are present, its best to err on the side of caution. That is, there can never be too much supervision for children in the water.

You should ensure your child follows the safety rules and guidelines set out by public pools and beaches. These rules could include swimming between the flags at the beach or not running around the pool. If your child plays by the rules then an accident is less likely to happen, and it is more likely to be a safe environment for them and other children in the area.

The responsibilities of public pools

If youre taking your child to a public swimming pool, its worth noting that the pool facilities are required to adhere to particular standards. This includes making sure all staff are properly trained to respond in case of an emergency, whether its a first aid situation or otherwise. The pool facility must also provide the appropriate level of staff to ensure the pool is fully supervised in relation to the number of people present.

Public facilities must undertake regular risk assessments to ensure they have proper risk management strategies. This can include clear placement of signs, ensuring proper slip protection is set down and having emergency plans in place. The Australian Water Safety Council monitors these issues, and more detailed information is available on their website.

By taking appropriate safety measures, a pool facility minimises the risk of injuries occurring, and also mitigates their risk of liability. This creates a safe recreational environment for everyone.

What if something goes wrong?

If you or your child experiences an incident in or around the water, there are measures you can take. In order to make a public liability claim you must establish that your child has suffered a significant injury due to the negligence of another party. If these elements can be established, you may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, loss of earning or earning capacity, and past and future medical expenses.

When assessing these claims, the courts will give consideration to whether or not you took reasonable care for your child's safety by adhering to the relevant rules (be it at the pool or the beach).

For other parties, such as the public pool, the courts will look at whether they had reasonable plans and steps in place to prevent incidents from happening. This may include whether they had appropriate risk assessments and risk management plans, proper training and supervision at the time of the incident, or that the relevant standards were properly adhered to.

Dimi Ioannou is a principal in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.

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Dimi Ioannou

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Dimi Ioannou is a Principal Lawyer and Practice Group Leader at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in charge of the firm’s Public and Product Liability team in Melbourne. Dimi is an accredited specialist in personal injury law. Dimi works in the area of public liability and represents ...

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