According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) data published, Thailand suffered 3,956 drowning deaths in 2020, about 5.49 per 100,000 population. This ranks Thailand #22 in the world. Drowning remains the leading cause of death for children below the age of 15 in Thailand.
This year, Phuket Hotels Association in collaboration with the Australian Consulate-General in Phuket decided to work together to highlight preventable drownings with a series of activities starting with a media event promoting World Drowning Prevention Day on July 25, followed by a two-week series of intensive training targeting non-lifeguard staff at hotels and culminating with a seminar focused on “Collaboration in Water Safety” on Aug 6.
The training component, spearheaded by Phuket Hotels Association, focused on staff who work at hotels and are based near swimming pools or beaches, who are most likely to be “on the spot” when incidents occur. More than 50 hotel staff joined the three courses offered – including security guards, waiters, sports staff and kids club staff.
Participants were trained in the classroom, the swimming pool and the sea to give them knowledge and skills to help build their by-stander capabilities in the event of a water incident or other accident, with the first aid component also exploring how to deal with some of the more common accidents that could occur, including immobilising injured limbs, bandaging, dealing with sunstroke, bleeding incidents, choking and heart attack as well as lifts and carries, land and water rescue and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
At all times, the message highlighted to trainees was to think of and assess the danger to themselves first! Trainees were also strongly encouraged to check what equipment was available in their area before they started work each day, check pool or sea conditions and look for hazards regularly ‒ including looking for rips and currents at the beach. This, as well as maintaining a good level of general fitness was reinforced repeatedly.
The lead trainer, Lisa Maddison, from Queensland, Australia, travelled to Phuket to conduct this intensive training. Lisa is the Queensland South Coast Branch Patrol Development Coordinator, South Coast Branch Trainers Assessors and Facilitators Development Officer and Chief Training Officer at Miami Beach Surf Life Saving Club as well as an active lifeguard at Surfers Paradise and Miami Beaches on the Gold Coast. Lisa’s most recent Australian awards include the 2022 Surf Life Saving Australia Rescue Medal and the 2022 Surf Life Saving Queensland Life Saving Excellence Award.
The training was supported by three enthusiastic Phuket-based lifesaving trainers and conducted in Patong (see photos of the training on the “Phuket Water Safety Academy” Facebook page). The training was embraced with enthusiasm and more of this kind of training is needed if we are to cater to the return of tourism in the coming months as anticipated.
This is not the first time this kind of training has been conducted in Phuket, with hotels regularly training pre-COVID in a range of lifesaving and general first aid and safety areas. However, the prolonged effects of the COVID pandemic on tourism have resulted in a shortage of hotel staff with advanced water safety skills. Many lifeguards and trained staff have returned to other provinces or found alternate work and many of those who did remain did not have the same opportunities for annual training for the past three years due to hotel closures coupled with a drastic reduction in tourist numbers.
The seminar on Aug 6, titled “Collaboration in Water Safety”, was opened by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew with Australian Consul-General to Phuket Matthew Barclay, Phuket Hotels Association President Bjorn Courage, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Phuket office (DDPM-Phuket) Assistant Director Amornthep Preekham and Ms Maddison all as guest speakers.
Dr Johan Storck spoke about the Patong Rotary programme to teach children to swim and a panel representing the DDPM, the boating industry, the hotel industry and professional lifeguards discussed the current limitations and opportunities they saw to prevent drowning. One popular proposal was to establish a beach safety committee to oversee beach safety and consistency of approach, signs and standards ‒ a move Governor Narong expressed interest in.
The audience consisted of hotel general managers and consular representatives from Germany, Korea and Austria. Also in attendance were local government and non-profit organisations and hospital representatives.
Despite the event occurring on a Saturday, it was obvious those present were dedicated to the prospect of collaboration to prevent further loss of life by drowning.
Frankly, we can never have too much safety training. The skills learned can have a roll-on effect and this makes communities safer and more resilient. The impact of drowning on a family, a community and a destination are profound. Investing time and effort in training those at the front line and “on the spot” will prevent drowning and make Phuket a safer place for all.
In 2022, the theme of World Drowning Prevention Day this year encourages us all to “Do One Thing” to save lives and prevent drowning.
This could include installing barriers near water, providing safe places for children away from water, teaching swimming, water safety and rescue skills, training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation, safe boating enforcement and improving flood risk management.
What will you do?
By Jayne MacDougall
Jayne MacDougall has organised water safety and lifeguard training in Phuket in collaboration with Australian Lifesaving Organisations for more than 20 years. She is the Project Consultant for Phuket Hotels Association Lifesaving Training.