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Swimming pool trip ends in a bellyflop

The issue of "safe swimming" was brought to my attention by a friend who attempted to go swimming in Glasgow with his two-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

Due to the recently-introduced health and safety regulations of the pool, which specified that there must be a one-to-one ratio of adults to children aged under four, James and his two children were denied access.

Infuriated by the stupidity of this policy, and the pool attendant's explanation that this was being done "for the safety of your children", James asked the attendant if she loves his children more than he does?

The question James was asking, or rather the point he was making, was this: do you care more about the safety of my children than me? The answer is no. Are you suggesting that I would put my children's lives at risk? The answer is yes. And finally: do you think it is acceptable to treat parents with such contempt? Again, for James, the answer from the pool - and ultimately the council - must be yes.

Swimming pools across Scotland are increasingly adopting this safety first approach to swimming, incorporating "ratios" and "procedures" where previously there was an element of common sense and a reliance on professionalism by swimming pool staff.

Where previously a pool attendant or manager could use their experience to assess whether the number of children in a pool was dangerous, now they must follow the health and safety policy adopted by leisure managers and turn away parents who simply want to take their kids swimming and who are clearly not putting their children at risk.

Part of the irrationality of this approach - an approach that could result in more children drowning in the outdoors - is that some children may not learn to swim, especially the children of single parents who may simply be unable to take their children swimming for many years.

It also exposes a more legalistic and risk-management approach being adopted by local councils. It is an approach which tramples over any sense of the common good - and, with it, destroys common sense.

Generation Youth Issues is launching a campaign to challenge the risk-averse approach to swimming. See the website for further details.

Stuart Waiton is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org.

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