Managing Water Safety

A Blog from Carlene McAvoy, RoSPA


We’ve experienced the hottest temperatures on record in Scotland this year, which is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy our coast and water spaces.  Sadly, this kind of increased temperature also leads to people drowning or being seriously injured as they leap, sometimes quite literally, into unknown waters.

In 2018 there were 46 accidental drowning fatalities in Scotland – an eight per cent decrease in comparison to the Scotland Drowning Prevention Strategy three-year average .  Although optimistic, there is still more to do in order to reach Water Safety Scotland’s target of halving the number of accidental fatalities by 2026.

My role at RoSPA is very varied but part of this involves supporting and encouraging local authorities to create water safety policies.  In 2018, Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety, wrote to each Community Safety Partnership inviting them to draw on the support available through Water Safety Scotland and Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy.

RoSPA and RNLI held the first free policy workshop which aimed to help improve local authorities understanding of water safety policy and better understand the barriers to implementing policy, and to share key information and advice.  The workshop successfully increased confidence in ability to identify water-related risk among those in attendance, and 11 local authorities noted their intention to develop a water safety policy.

In order to reduce drownings, local authorities and their communities can take action to increase awareness of water related risks. To help achieve this, Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategy has the strategic aim to “develop water safety across Scotland’s 32 local authority areas and promote the development of water safety policies”. 

Pivotal to the implementation of the strategy and drowning prevention is the engagement of landowners and site managers in water safety. Although there is a myriad of landowners within Scotland, local authorities have a unique opportunity to improve water safety through their ability to create a water safety policy for council land.

RoSPA’s recent research, Local Authority Approaches to Managing Water Safety, highlighted that although less than half of local authorities had a policy level commitment on water safety, three-quarters responded indicating the importance of water safety.

We are keen to continue working in partnership with local authorities across Scotland to discuss what more we can do collectively to raise awareness of water safety and the importance of water safety policies.  Water safety policies can cover a range of issues such as risk profile, existing guidance and procedures, risk assessment, signage, public rescue equipment, and inspections and education.  High-risk areas on local authority land would therefore be managed as required.

  • Guidance for local authorities and landowners is available.  Managing Safety at Inland Waters is RoSPA’s principal guidance for site managers and duty holders in the UK.
  • Guidance for managing safety at beaches is also under development and will be published this year.

If you work within a local authority or work with one – then please highlight the importance of a water safety policy to help reduce drownings or get in touch with RoSPA for more information.