Pools prove deadly for toddlers

November 27, 2012

Policy & Issues

Story by Brian Platt

Photo by Reigh LeBlanc (Flickr).

A properly locked gate will often prevent toddlers from drowning in backyard pools, an inquest into a two-year-old boy’s death heard on Tuesday. Yet despite evidence that a four-sided fence enclosure provides the best way of keeping young children safe around pools, the City of Ottawa is still not making them mandatory.

Jérémie Audette was at an unlicensed daycare on July 28, 2010 when he left the small wading pool he was playing in and, unnoticed by everyone else in the backyard, entered a large pool. He was floating motionless by the time he was found by an eight-year-old girl and paramedics and doctors were unable to revive him.

The property owner was not criminally charged over the incident, but was later fined under the Day Nurseries Act for not having a licence to operate a daycare. There were 22 children on the property at the time.

The circumstances of Audette’s death, which came in a summer that saw seven Ontario toddlers drown in backyard pools, are being examined by a coroner’s inquest to determine how to prevent similar accidents.

Arlene Gregoire, the director of building code services for the City of Ottawa, told the inquest’s jury about a report currently before city council that recommends a new bylaw for backyard pools and an annual public education campaign. The report was authored by Gregoire and other city staff.

The new bylaw would mandate fences that are more difficult for children to climb and require all gates to be locked when the pool is not in use, though Gregoire acknowledged these new rules would not have saved Audette’s life as the pool was in use at the time.

“The focus is to prevent unsuspecting children from drowning…(children) that nobody knows are there,” Gregoire told the jury.

The report relied on an Australian study conducted over 12 years that showed that every single toddler drowning was due to an insecure gate.

“Is it fair to say the Achilles heel of an enclosure is the gate?” asked Stuart Huxley, the City of Ottawa’s lawyer.

“Yes…at the end of the day, the gates are the points of entry that fail,” said Gregoire.

The Australian study also showed that drownings were reduced by forty per cent when pools were entirely enclosed by a four-sided fence, instead of just a three-sided fence that leaves access between the house and the pool unobstructed.

However, Gregoire told the jury it was unrealistic to ask all homeowners to re-landscape their yards with new pool fencing, as it would be prohibitively expensive for many families.

Instead, the report advises that a public education campaign and strict requirements around locking the gate are the most effective ways for the city to keep children safe around pools.


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