Objective: To investigate the causes of child drowning and determine the need for changes in the legislation as well as improvements to the inspection and enforcement of current legislation related to barriers surrounding private swimming pools.
Methods: There were 3 stages to the study: a retrospective review of coroner's data, an audit of swimming pool inspections, and in-depth interviews with swimming pool inspectors in Western Australia. The incidence of childhood drowning (per population) and compliance rates of swimming pools (per 1000 swimming pools) to the legislation were measured.
Results: During the 12-year observational period (1988-2000) 50 children younger than 5 years drowned in private swimming pools in Western Australia with an overall incidence of drowning of 4.4 per 100 000 children per year. Sixty-eight percent of drownings occurred in pools that did not have 4-sided fencing with an almost 2-fold increased risk (incidence rate ratio: 1.78; 95% confidence interval: 1.40-1.79) of a child's drowning in a swimming pool with 3-sided versus 4-sided fencing. The compliance rate of swimming pools (compliance to the current legislation) at first inspection was approximately 400 per 1000 swimming pools.
Conclusions: Almost two thirds of the swimming pools in which children drowned had only 3-sided fencing. With a combination of a change in legislation, enhanced inspection processes, and public education, the incidence of drowning in private swimming pools in Western Australia could be reduced in the coming years.