Calls for better swimming pool safety after Dubai drowning

Incidents puts swimming pool safety in the spotlight and many say that public pools are either without lifeguards or attended by staff who are not qualified to attempt first aid techniques.

DUBAI // A recent drowning and two near misses have thrown swimming safety and the need for tighter security at community pools back in the spotlight.

Witnesses to the three incidents are sharing their experiences hoping to improve vigilance at pools.

Two children were rescued from pools in Dubai by quick-thinking bystanders, while a woman drowned after hitting her head on the bottom of a pool in Al Nahda.

British mother Jola Chudy was with her son at a villa complex in Al Barsha to meet friends when she saw an emergency.

“There were maybe 50 people around the pool,” said Ms Chudy, a magazine editor.

“It was a nice atmosphere, then I heard a woman scream as another man dived into the pool. He pulled out this limp child from the water.

“It happened so fast – less than a minute from swimming around playing as a family to this lad almost drowning. He was young, probably about 9.”

The boy, who was with a British family, was unconscious and was resuscitated at the poolside by the man who rescued him, a relative.

The shocking incident served to highlight how quickly a calm, happy holiday can turn into a moment of life or death.

“Thank God they managed to get him back. It is the worst thing I have seen – horrific,” Ms Chudy said.

“Health and safety is really bad in a lot of these hotels and public swimming pools, where there are either no lifeguards or they’re poorly trained. Swimming is a big part of UAE life. It needs to improve.”

Hassan Siddiqi, 33, a marketing consultant, recently visited a hotel in Abu Dhabi with his family and was furious to see a lack of safety precautions at the pool, something he said was typical of many public pools.

There was a pool attendant handing out towels, but he was not monitoring the pool at all times and a sign advised guests that they were swimming at their own risk.

“The sign in the hotel bothered me,” Mr Siddiqi said. “It kind of suggested the hotel was taking no responsibility for safety.

“I’ve lived in Dubai all my life. If there is a lifeguard with first aid training, it is very rare. In the hotel, some guys will give you a towel but they’re clearly not trained in first aid, and in residential buildings there is rarely an attendant on duty.

“Some hotels have rescue aids but they are not always available for public use.”

Mr Siddiqi, a father of three young boys who love swimming, said his cousin Najia, who was in her thirties, died when she was swimming in a community pool at her residential building in Al Nahda late last year.

Drowning is a major cause of accidental death, accounting for 400,000 cases globally each year.

In 2015, a system to certify and develop lifeguard skills was launched by Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council to increase the number of pool attendants trained in water-rescue skills.

The voluntary scheme accredited successful candidates with a pool-rescue qualification and the latest first aid techniques. The council could not confirm how many lifeguards had qualified.

Chris Kelly, a British swimming teacher who visits the UAE to work with schools in an advisory role, said attendants should be made to qualify.

Mr Kelly rescued a young girl from a pool near Dubai Marina this month.

“I could see this young girl in the deep end on her own,” he said. “She was trying to shout for help but was going under.

“I swam underneath her, scooped her up and got her to the side. I calmed her down as she was coughing up water and was very shaken up.”

Mr Kelly said the pool was unattended.

“It was just a 20-metre pool, but that size pool is found all over Dubai,” he said. “The incident made me think about the regulations here in Dubai. I was just happy this kid was safe.”