Half of drownings involving kids happened in condo pools

Children taking swimming lessons at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex. Figures from KKH show there were 104 drownings and near-drownings involving children between 2011 and last year. Five drowning victims had been at pool parties at the time. Dr Arif Tyeba
Children taking swimming lessons at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex. Figures from KKH show there were 104 drownings and near-drownings involving children between 2011 and last year. Five drowning victims had been at pool parties at the time. Dr Arif Tyebally from KKH advises parents to give children their undivided attention when they are swimming or even in the bath.ST FILE PHOTO

Half the number of drownings and near-drownings involving children over the past five years have occurred in condominium swimming pools.

Figures from KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) show there were 104 such accidents between 2011 and last year.

Ten of these children died and two suffered irreversible brain damage.

Five of the children who died had been at pool parties at the time.

"The scary thing about drowning is that it's very silent and can happen in seconds," said Dr Arif Tyebally, deputy head of the hospital's emergency medicine department. "You can just turn around and suddenly it's quiet and the child is underwater."

In the past five years, the hospital saw an average of 20 such cases a year. In comparison, it saw between one and 14 cases annually from 2005 to 2010.

While pools - especially private ones - were by far the most common places where submersion incidents occurred, children also got into trouble in bathtubs, the sea and even buckets.

KKH handles the bulk of such cases in Singapore.

Those aged one to six tend to be most vulnerable. A child can drown in as little as 5cm of water.

"You can never be too complacent when it comes to children," Dr Arif said, stressing that parents should keep an eye on children even if they are just playing near water. "Children have to have (caregivers') undivided attention when they are in the bath or swimming."

He added that floats and swimming rings are not proper safety devices, and should not lull parents into a false sense of security.

Ms Carol Chew, 43, lives in a condo with her three children aged two, five and nine. The older two started taking swimming lessons at around age four.

"Even then, we're very cautious at the pool because we know how easy it is to get into an accident," their mother said.

The vast majority of condominiums do not have lifeguards as their pools tend to be fairly empty outside of peak periods, said Mr Chan Kok Hong, president of the Association of Strata Managers.

He suggested that it could be time to take a "hard look" at fencing off pools, as is done in many parts of Australia. "They have fences and child-proof locks," he said. "It means that I can take my kids to the poolside for a barbecue, but I know that they can't go in."

Mr Richard Tan, president of the Singapore Life Saving Society, added that condominium dwellers who throw pool parties should consider hiring lifeguards for the duration as well.

"You know that there are going to be children there, and you don't know their swimming ability," he said.

"I would skip the decorations and pay for a lifeguard instead."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Half of drownings involving kids happened in condo pools'. Print Edition | Subscribe