Thursday, 29 March 2012

Risk Management & Surf Lifesaving Australia

After the tragic death of young surf life saver Matthew Barclay yesterday I couldn't help but think that this could have been prevented. An obvious question to ask, but nevertheless an extremely important one.

This is the second death in recent times at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships (ASLC) after 19 year old Saxon Bird drowned after been left unconscious in the surf for 50 minutes. The Chief Executive of Surf Life Saving (SLSA) Brett Williamson said today that he feels there was nothing more they could do to prevent Matthew's death at Kurrawa Beach. That's hard to believe, after a Coroner's inquest into the death of Saxon Bird several recommendations were made to SLSA to improve safety. 

Among these recommendations, it was strongly suggested that SLSA implement a flotation devise which should be compulsory for competitors to wear during surf lifesaving events. According to an article in the Brisbane Times today Vest maker attacks surf lifesaving bosses SLSA have been in discussions about implementing such a devise for some time and are yet to do so. 

Image courtesy of Charlie Brewer
This is apalling, SLSA have had 2 years to implement such a devise since the death of Saxon Bird at the same event and venue in 2010. Surely a repeat of this death would have been of the utmost importance to the organisation. Brett Williamson said today that they are still undergoing tests to determine the appropriate flotation devise. Two years after the event, this gives me the impression that safety of competitors is not high on the list for SLSA at such events.

The risk management strategies in place at the ASLC are clearly not good enough. Sure as Brett Williamson say's surf lifesavers excellent swimmers and are great judges of beach conditions, but that does not answer the question of why competitors such as Matthew Barclay died. He was 14 years old, he would not have been as capable of dealing with rough conditions compared with someone like IronMan champion Zane Holmes. I have no doubt in Matthew's ability, but 14 year old's are sometimes not capable of dealing with difficult surf, no matter their ability.

Perhaps for juniors such as Matthew & Saxon, if the surf is dangerous the event should be postponed or moved to an alternative venue. Common sense perhaps, but recent events suggest otherwise. 

On their website, SLSA say their vision is to save lives, create great Australians and build better communities. Unfortunately yesterday they failed to complete the most crucial part and save the life of Matthew Barclay, which with appropriate risk management strategies in place would have been prevented.