Major incidents and “near misses” on our waterways must be learned from to avoid future tragedies, according to two of the area’s top cops.
A warning from Chief Inspector Coleen Wylie came as emergency services and council officers discussed their water safety action plan aimed at preventing fatalities over the coming years.
And West Dunbartonshire’s commander John Paterson echoed his desire to ensure lessons learned help prevent further deaths in future.
The priority was discussed at last week’s meeting of the West Dunbartonshire community planning management board a month after family marked what would have been the 13th birthday of Ava Gray, who died in the River Leven last August.
The popular dancing champion got into difficulty near to Balloch Bridge and couldn’t be saved despite lifebelts being located nearby but behind a locked fence.
Her relatives have been calling for improved signage in the area to warn of dangerous undercurrents and more access to potentially lifesaving equipment to stop others experiencing similar agonising losses.
Discussing the Partnership Approach to Water Safety (PAWS) locally, Chief Inspector Wylie said: “One of the key areas is post-incident discussion and debrief following a significant incident or a near miss.
“It’s really important we review that or establish any learning or any procedures we need to put in place.
“With the environment, are there any physical changes we need to make, enhanced equipment, new equipment or signage that we can enhance for the safety of the public?
“It has already made really good progress.”
The senior cop told how a variety of authorities including the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the council’s education department had already enjoyed “positive engagement” in enhancing water safety for residents and visitors to the area.
Meanwhile Chief Superintendent John Paterson said: “What we are talking about here isn’t just for West Dunbartonshire. It’s for the whole of Scotland. I am really keen about near misses and how we capture that learning.
“That will help the prevention for the future and how we feed that back in.”
The new approach to water safety will look to implement the targets set through Scotland’s National Drowning Prevention Strategy which are to reduce accidental drowning deaths in Scotland by 50 percent by 2026 and reduce risk among the highest-risk populations, groups and communities as well as contributing to the reduction of water-related suicide.
Two meetings have been held by the local PAWS group since the start of March with exercises planned and risk assessments ongoing.
Two of these are set to be carried out this year and another in early 2022.
The report presented to members of the community planning management board showed how public water rescue equipment site visits had been carried out by partners with recommendations for types of signage and equipment.
SFRS have committed to the initial funding costs including mounting hooks and throw lines, and discussion ongoing to facilitate locations and fitting of equipment and signage as quickly as possible.
Chief Inspector Wylie stressed it was vital to ensure there was awareness through schools and community groups “to get that message across about the real issues particularly as we approach summer and warmer weather”.
West Dunbartonshire Council’s head of education Laura Mason said there was already a curriculum plan in place for the summer period in relation to water safety and that funding received for mental health and wellbeing would be put towards swimming lessons.
She explained: “It’s going to cover bases for us. There are mental health elements and it’s going to be great for the young people who have missed out on swimming lessons through lockdown.”
And West Dunbartonshire Council’s chief executive Joyce White emphasised the importance of water safety as she described an increase in adults partaking in open water swimming locally.
She added: “I hear of people travelling to Loch Lomond to carry that out.
“We want to be sure they take the appropriate precautions. Safety needs to come first always on these hobbies and activities.”
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