On Monday (18th November) I was privileged to attend the 2019 Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Water Safety Conference in London – ‘Making Every Community Count’.

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The RoSPA conference is where a multitude of influential organisations, charities and government agencies who are all involved in drowning prevention and water safety meet up to examine how they can collectively improve in reducing fatalities around water.  It is three years since the launch of the National Water Safety Strategy which is supported by Government and this wide range of organisations which is making significant efforts to address the five key targets to help improve water safety.

The conference was opened by Mr George Rawlinson who is the National Water Safety Forum Independent Chair.  One of the points which was clear from Mr Rawlinson’s opening address is that “Collaboration is essential if we are to succeed in reducing fatalities around the waters of the UK, inland and coast”.

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There are many campaigns up and down the UK that involve collaboration with several different agencies. These include the Royal Life saving Societies (RLSS) ‘Don’t Drink and Drown’ ‘Runners and Walkers’ and Winter Water Safety campaigns, the RNLI’s  Respect the Water, National Fire Chief’s ‘Be Water Aware’ week; and no end of highly successful throw bag ‘community responder’ schemes at canal’s, harbours, marina’s and riverside locations.

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Conference speakers included: Mr Dominic Watkins from DWF Law LLP., who spoke about the independent review of the legal framework on who owes legal responsibility for ensuring water safety on the coastline. This was commissioned on behalf of the HM Coastguard Agency following the very tragic deaths at Camber Sands.

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The second speaker up to the podium was introduced as Mark Towens, the Port of London Authority Harbour Master.  Mr Towens led the audience through the development and delivery of the Tidal Thames Water Safety Forum strategy which you may remember was launched by HRH Prince William earlier in the year.  The aim of the strategy is to reduce the 700 incidents and 30 fatalities resulting from accidental or deliberate drowning (suicide) along the River Thames.

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David Wilson, Station Manager Manchester Central Fire Station (Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service) spoke next which proved highly interesting and informative.  Station Manager Wilson is the chair of the water safety partnership and explored the challenges and lessons learnt from this partnership approach.

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Mr Nick Pope was invited up to the stage and spoke about his son’s very tragic and sad death whilst returning home after a night out as a student in Manchester.  When Mr Pope spoke you could hear a pin drop in the room talking openly about how we can all help #MakeCharlieTheLast.

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Further speakers included Mr Justin Scarr (Chief Executive Royal Life Saving Society Australia), Mr David Walker (Leisure Safety Manager for RoSPA) who revealed that rivers suffered the highest proportion of UK accidental drowning casualities, that future focus should include the pro-active sharing of good practise; Mr Brian Johnson (Chief Executive, Maritime Coastguard Agency) and Dr Peter Aitken (Director of Research and Development, Devon Partnership NHS Trust).  It is Dr Aitken’s talk which I will focus on next. 

Dr Aitken delivered a truly inspiring talk entitled “Boats, Barbers, Prisoners and Farmers”. Dr Aitken explored the way in which ‘crowd sourcing’ could be harnessed to help increase suicide prevention amongst the wider community, by mobilising community expertise to look out for people who are in need of help particularly in areas which may attract people who wish to take their own lives.

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You may have already come across the ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ which is such a fantastic campaign started by the Samaritans which is really important to follow and use.  It was also very interesting to learn that studies by Dr Aitken show that if the press or others disclose the identity (male/female), location and means that there is direct causation to two further suicides. You can follow Dr Aitken’s work via his twitter feed

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Conclusion

I would like to thank David Walker and his team from RoSPA who organised and deliverd the conference and to the excellent speakers who provided a highly invaluable and a very worthwhile day.

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Other useful references

RNLI – Respect the Water campaign

HM Coastguard – Managing Beach Safety

National Fire Chief’s – Be Water Aware

RLSS – Don’t Drink and Drown

Canals and River Trust

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Acknowledgements

RNLI Community Safety Team

HM Coastguard

RoSPA – Water Safety

Dr Peter Aitken – Director of Research & Development, Devon Partnership NHS Trust

Dominic Walker – DWF Low LLP

Harbour Master Mark Towens – Port of London Authority

Station Manager David Wilson – Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service

Justin Scarr – CEO Royal Lifesaving Society Australia


Andy Mills

Thanet RNLI Community Safety Officer Striving to reduce accidental drownings by 50% by 2024 by spreading key safety messages to Thanet communities and its visitors.