The National Water Safety Forum (opens PDF) reports that, on average, 400 people drown each year in the UK and a further 200 people take their own lives in UK waters.  It adds that drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death.  

E-petition 575967 highlights the death of Mark Allen, who died, aged 18, after jumping into a freezing reservoir on a hot day in June 2018. It calls on the Government to require by law that throwlines are available in designated places around open bodies of water, such as reservoirs and canals. The petition closed in September 2021 and received 103,535 signatures. 

What are throwline stations? 

Throwline stations typically involve a board featuring safety information and emergency contacts, together with a throwline or throw bag. Throwlines are rescue devices; they are a length of rope that a member of the public can use to pull someone to safety from the water if they get into difficulties. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has published information about how to use a throw bag / throwline; it describes them as a “lifeline” for someone who has fallen in the water. 

The RNLI and Royal Life Saving Society UK also have information about cold water shock, which is triggered in water temperatures lower than 15⁰C and can be a precursor to drowning. The webpages explain the symptoms of cold water shock, how to minimise risks and how to respond if you unexpectedly enter cold water.  

Responsibility for managing local water risks 

In its UK Drowning Prevention Strategy, 2016-2026 (opens PDF), the National Water Safety Forum notes that the responsibility for managing water risks at a local level or given site is often dispersed among a number of organisations”. The Government, in its Response to the e-petition, states that the risks posed by open bodies of water should be assessed and acted on by the responsible landowner. It adds that “local authorities will be responsible for a minority of bodies of water, including some beaches” while the: 

majority of reservoirs are owned by the major water companies. The Environment Agency manages rivers and the Canal and Rivers Trust manage the canal network and all have a responsibility to ensure these are safe. 

The Government also highlights that both employers and those who are self-employed, who work close to water, are required under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, to take steps to prevent employees and other people from coming to harm due to their work activities. It goes on to state, however, that the methods of achieving this are not set down in law and may differ depending on the particular characteristics of the site and the circumstances”. It also notes that not all bodies of open water are associated with ongoing work and, as such, would not fall under the remit of the 1974 Act. According to the Government Response, this means that “even if they were deemed appropriate at all locations, throwlines could not be made mandatory under Health and Safety legislation”. 

Further reading 


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