HK coroner calls for new safety measures at public swimming pools following tragedy at North Kwai Chung Jockey Club

08-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

A coroner has called for improved safety measures at swimming pools including better communication between lifeguards after ruling a drowning was an accident.

Coroner Stephanie Tsui May-har recorded the verdict of accident caused by drowning on Thursday for the death of Kwok Siu-ho at North Kwai Chung Jockey Club Swimming Pool three years ago.

CCTV footage showed Kwok, 40, was pulled out of the water 12 minutes after sinking in the 1.8 metre-deep pool at 5.22pm on August 11, 2016.

He was taken to Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan where he later died.

Tsui said Kwok had not waved or shouted for help and lifeguards on duty recalled their views were blocked by sunlight.

But she slammed a number of mistakes made by lifeguards and senior managers at the public pool, following a three-day hearing at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court.

She cited witness statements saying several lifeguards left their posts without seeking or obtaining permission from line managers.

Some claimed they were sick and went to the bathroom, while others sat in a nearby restaurant and only observed the pool by looking out the window.

“The court accepts lifeguards on shifts have physical needs and may have to leave posts from time to time, but appropriate arrangements should be in place to accommodate those situations,” Tsui said.

There were enough lifeguards on duty on the day of the accident, but there were communication failures as some lifeguards did not know which managers were at work and who they should report to, she added.

Tsui made two recommendations at the hearing to improve safety at public swimming pools.

She said operators must ensure at least one senior member of staff is on shift to oversee lifeguards on duty.

Their names should be displayed at appropriate places to make sure lifeguards know who to report to, and they should also carry walkie-talkies to stay in touch.

Tsui also said lifeguards should alert their superiors when their views of swimmers were blocked by sunlight or other abnormalities, adding that in those circumstances poolside patrols should be enhanced.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department must also set out clearer guidelines, so the recommendations would be followed through, the coroner added.

Anson Tang Tsz-on, president of Hong Kong government Lifeguards general Union, said the root cause for lifeguards leaving their surveillance posts during shifts was the lack of recess time for them.

The problem was compounded by not enough lifeguards recruited in the first place, Tang added.

“International guidelines state lifeguards should take a break at least once an hour, yet lifeguards on 81/2-hour shifts in Hong Kong’s public pools don’t even have rest time stipulated in their rosters, except one hour for lunch at their own time,” Tang said.

“This is why lifeguards have to leave their posts to go to the toilet or have something to eat.”

Tsui said she understood the death and the trial process had a “heavy impact” on Kwok’s wife and his family members who were present at the hearing on Thursday.

But she said she hoped the findings would “shed more light and provide more information” to them as to the cause of Kwok’s death.

A spokeswoman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said: “The department is aware of the Coroner Court’s verdict, and will carefully study the recommendations made to the department.”


Category: Hong Kong

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