Partnership aims to improve water safety and save lives in Perth and Kinross

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The multi-agency group has taken positive action following the tragic river death of a teenager last year

Water Safety Partnership Members

Caption: Members of the Perth & Kinross Water Safety Partnership at the launch of their initiative at North Muirton in Perth. From left to right, Robert Lyle – PKC Environment Service, Jennifer McOmish and Steve Gourdie – PKC Safer Communities Team, Lisa Stuart – Safe-Tay Water Safety Organisation, Donna Davidson - Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit, Ewan Baird, Rab Middlemiss and Scott Symon – SFRS: Perth & Kinross area

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is leading a new water safety initiative in Perthshire, aimed at preventing tragedies which claimed the life of a teenager last summer.

SFRS and partner agencies today launched the scheme at North Muirton, Perth, on the banks of the River Tay where 16-year-old Mateusz Wilamowski was attempting to cross with a group of friends on Sunday 28 July last year and was swept away by the deceivingly fast flowing current.

Today marks the first phase of a series of improvements intended to reduce the risk of water related deaths and injuries in the Perth & Kinross area with the addition of emergency throwlines and new warning signs which have been positioned to enhance safety in this area.

This tragic incident prompted an initial review of water safety in the local area by Perth City Centre Councillors Peter Barrett and Archie MacLellan along with local SFRS managers where it was agreed to form a wider partnership group to identify safety improvements initially in North Muirton and throughout Perth & Kinross.

Since then a multi-agency partnership group with representatives from Perth & Kinross Council’s Safer Communities Team and Environment Service, Safe-Tay Water Safety Organisation and SFRS have met to analyse information from the last 4 years of emergency incidents in open water within Perth & Kinross to determine if and how any improvements could be made.

It was established that 8 people had lost their lives with a further 18 people injured within the 68 incidents that the SFRS provided an emergency response to during this time.

Different patterns or trends of incident types emerged from this study with key initiatives being identified to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

The measures will include improved or new signage at certain locations to give a stronger safety message and warning to members of the public at those identified areas of risk.

Many of the incidents that SFRS attended were found to be as a result of dogs getting trapped or lost in open water with owners occasionally attempting to rescue their pets and subsequently also becoming at risk of being injured.

Therefore signs informing dog walkers to keep their pets on a leash when next to open water will be incorporated at specific locations, in addition to those that will highlight the risks of swimming. These will replace signs that were previously installed in 2007.

Lisa Stuart from Safe-Tay whose own brother drowned in the River Tay in 2006 designed the new signs that were approved by the group said: “I was delighted to assist in this important partnership work to improve water safety in the Perth & Kinross area.

“We felt as a group it was important to design signage that gave a strong message and highlight the real dangers that are present from open water locally.

Therefore we have produced the signs in red with clear safety symbols and warnings to emphasise these risks.

“This also incorporates a part at the base of each sign for the local place name and map grid reference to be inserted which will assist members of the public to give quick and accurate information to the emergency services on dialling 999 to enable them to effectively respond, though our intention is that people do not find themselves in danger and requiring the intervention of the emergency services by observing and complying with these warning signs.”

When the previous signage was reviewed in the North Muirton area by the group most of it was found to have been vandalised and removed therefore the new signs have been installed as securely as possible in an attempt to prevent this.

Willie Young from PKC’s Environment Service added: “Whilst we cannot make signs that are completely ‘vandal proof’, so-to-speak, our staff have installed the poles that hold these new signs and emergency throwlines in a concrete base to make it harder to remove these.

“Though in support of this life saving initiative I would urge people to behave responsibly and think before they act as you never know if or when someone could need the use of an emergency throwline or be alerted to potential danger from these warning signs.

"Therefore when these are vandalised there is primarily the risk to life and secondly the cost to the Council and ultimately the taxpaying public of Perth & Kinross from unnecessary maintenance and repairs.”

The four additional emergency throwlines and 10 new warning signs have been installed to cover all approach routes to the river bank and popular ‘Woody Island’ area.

The launch aptly coincided with the start of the school holidays where young people can be tempted to enter rivers or other open water and ‘Drowning Prevention Week’, a national campaign run by the Royal Life Saving Society UK to promote water safety messages and help reduce incidents of drowning.

Around 400 people drown in the UK each year, and thousands more have near-drowning experiences, many suffering life changing injuries. Shockingly drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death in children in the UK.

The placement of the warning signs and emergency throwlines have been put in position prior to next month’s Rewind Festival on the opposite banks of the River Tay on Scone Parklands. It was on the last day of the festival last year that Mateusz Wilamowski tragically drowned and it is known that some local people gather on the North Muirton banks of the Tay to listen to the music and sometimes have some food and alcohol during the event.

Rewind Festival organisers arrange for marshalling and fencing to be put in place to ensure the safety of festival goers and the local partnership group are emphasising key safety messages for members of the public who intend to listen to the music from the opposite embankment.

Jennifer McOmish from PKC’s Safer Communities Team said, “We want to urge people to enjoy themselves and also act responsibly by observing the safety warning signs and remember that open water and alcohol do not mix, our message is please don’t drink and drown.

“Our Community Safety Wardens and local Police will be increasing their patrols in this area during the weekend of the festival to engage with the public and keep people safe.”

The work of the partnership group did not go unnoticed by members of the Procurator Fiscal’s Office who examined the findings from the death of Mateusz to determine any recommendations that could be included to reduce the risk of similar tragedies occurring in future. The implementation of these safety measures have meant that further action has not been required.

Donna Davidson, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit commented, “The proactive work of this local partnership group is an excellent example of how simple and effective collaborative working can result in improvements to the health, safety and wellbeing of our communities.

"We wholeheartedly support any work that can potentially save a life."
The project lead was Group Manager Rab Middlemiss from SFRS who highlighted the need for this initiative to effectively manage local risk.

He said: “With more water flowing through Perth & Kinross from the River Tay and its tributaries than any other area in the UK it is clear that there is a real and present danger to the safety of our communities.

"This is emphasised by the fact that we have had eight people lose their lives over the last four years in water related incidents. During that same time two people have died as a result of fires in their homes, therefore the need to reduce this risk and improve public safety through working in partnership was widely recognised by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

“The risks from open water are presented in different ways including the many outdoor activities that take place within our beautiful countryside like fishing or water sports right through to occasions where people may look to harm themselves through suicide attempts.

“Therefore the risks are often different and complex that requires a multi-agency partnership approach. We will look at different ways to improve safety for each identified risk whilst collectively we aim to make Perth & Kinross a safer place to live, work and visit.”

The Perth & Kinross Water Safety Partnership also intends to contribute to a national working group currently being established by RoSPA to improve water safety throughout Scotland and enable areas of local best practice to be shared.

Safety Sign And Emergency Throwline

Safety sign and emergency throwlines which are situated along the banks of the river