National Water Safety Forum



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NWSF Newsletter - December 2021


Message from the Chair


December is upon us already. Wow.


At this time of year, it is natural to pause to celebrate with loved ones but also to reflect on the previous 12 months.  


By the time this newsletter reaches your inbox, the National Water Safety Forum Coordinating Group will have met for the final time in 2021 and we will have asked ourselves some searching questions in relation to the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy.


If you attended the RoSPA Water Safety Conference and participated in the breakout sessions, I would like to thank you. Your contributions and insights will help the Coordinating Group as we hone our approach to the remaining five years of the Drowning Prevention Strategy


With the restrictions that COVID placed on festivities last year, I am sure many people will be keen to enjoy the Christmas break to the fullest extent possible. In and amongst the fun, please take time to share life-saving messages about alcohol and water safety via the Don’t Drink and Drown campaign. 


Finally, I would like to thank all those who gave me such warm feedback to my recent blog about working with bereaved families and individuals following fatal accidents. 


I look forward to seeing you in 2022 and continuing our work of reducing water-related harm in the UK.


Until next time,

Dawn Whittaker

Chair of the National Water Safety Forum


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Looking back at RoSPA’s first online water safety conference


On November 18, RoSPA hosted its first ever-online Water Safety Conference. Focussing on current drowning prevention developments in specific reference to the recent United Nations (UN) resolution on drowning prevention, the conference provided an opportunity to look at water safety through a global, national and local lens.

More than 400 registered attendees, were given exclusive access to speaker’s pre-recorded presentations in advance of the conference. At the event, delegates had the opportunity to put their questions to a panel of water safety experts.

Covering the global perspective, attendees heard from David Meddings (World Health Organization) and Gemma May (RNLI) who provided insight into the public health epidemic of drownings and what the UN resolution means for drowning prevention in the UK and around the world.

Dawn Whittaker Chair of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) briefed delegates about national picture of drowning prevention across the UK. Gareth Morrison (RNLI) provided an update on the NWSF’s joint and ongoing campaign: #RespectTheWater. Martin Barwood (Leeds Trinity University) discussed the systematic evaluation of documenting of UK drownings and the construction of a new Water Safety Incident Database (WAID).

Beckie Ramsay, who tragically lost her son Dylan in a fatal drowning incident more than a decade ago, shared her experience of fighting for water safety across the UK.  Dr Fionna Fylan (Brainbox) provided insight for attendees on behavioural science and how this might improve water safety. There was also a presentation about using smart technology with public rescue equipment.

The live Q&A session, chaired by Dawn Whittaker, was filled with enthusiasm and questions came from many quarters. Discussions were had about a variety of topics such as changing attitudes towards water safety, updating WAID to include near misses and improving parent awareness of drowning prevention. The chair hosted an excellent session which helped to address delegate’s questions and stimulate conversation.

Additionally, attendees were given the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions run by members of the National Water Safety Forum to discuss progress towards the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy and what is needed to move forward.

Five years ago, The NWSF, set the ambitious target of cutting water-related deaths by 50 per cent by 2026 in their UK Drowning Prevention Strategy. This conference provided a timely opportunity to reflect on progress made against the aims set in the Drowning Prevention Strategy. During breakout sessions, insightful recommendations were made by delegates which will be used in the NWSF in their forward planning.


Carlene McAvoy,

Leisure Safety Manager


You can still access the speaker’s pre-recorded presentations at the following links. We encourage you to watch these if you have not already:


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What to consider when working with bereaved families


Both as an individual and through my job in the emergency services, I have been involved in rescue missions for more than two decades.

Those experiences of trying to save lives, which on some occasions have been unsuccessful, have led me to reflect on the perspective of those who lose a loved one.  Some people undertake fundraising, some lean more towards getting involved in support groups and others try to raise awareness to prevent further deaths.  

The above is true of people who have lost someone special in a fire, on the road or as a result of drowning.

Irrespective of the nature of the tragedy, it’s important to try to offer timely and appropriate support to those who are expressing a desire to volunteer. In some instances that’s ensuring they are aware of some of the fantastic bereavement support charities that are out there. In some cases it is necessary to prepare families for the inquest and inform them about the process. Inquests can drag on for many months or even years and can be daunting, particularly if you have little experience of court rooms.

There are many ways that bereaved individuals and families can help us as safety professionals. Here are some examples:


  • Lobbying for change in legislation, establishing petitions, driving policy change or fundraising to improve the safety of a location. We have seen this with water safety in particular, where campaigning has led to improved barriers, lighting or signage in locations where there has been more than one tragedy. Other bereaved families and individuals have worked to change laws, on issues such as parental bereavement leave.
  • Getting involved in research, enrolling for academic study or being employed by organisations involved in life-saving.
  • Volunteering directly for one of the emergency services and contributing to education programmes run by safety organisations.
  • Engaging in grief support work such as giving talks and providing workshops to help others who are going through the process of living with loss.
  • Speaking to young people and children in schools, colleges and organisations such as the Scouts in order to promote safety messages.


There are some really important factors for professionals to consider when working with bereaved people who are supporting their work:


  1. Are they ready? Too soon is too soon. Taking on volunteer work before a funeral or an inquest may hinder the process of grieving. Organisations should have a process for sitting down with individuals and asking questions to assess risk to the newly bereaved. Some of this will involve broaching sensitive topics relating to physical and mental wellbeing.
  2. Setting expectations: After many years I know that bereaved families and individuals invariably want things to change quickly. It is vital to manage expectations, because often achieving changes in the law or policy resembles a marathon not a sprint. We need to be clear about what is possible from the outset of working with a bereaved family or individual. Failure to do so may cause further anguish.
  3. Managing the media: Engaging with the media can be a powerful way to share safety messages. However, always be aware that journalists want to get clicks, sell papers and secure hard-hitting interviews. This means that some journalists will not have a bereaved person’s best interests at heart. If possible, try to arrange some training for volunteers before any media appearances.
  4. Social media: Sadly, stories about fatal accidents can also attract negative attention from the public, especially when they are shared on social media. Over the years I have read vile comments posted anonymously and seemingly with no concern about the impact they may have. If we are working with bereaved families, we need to make them aware of the potential for a negative response.
  5. Passion versus professional limitation: Those at the front line of rescue missions are dealing with deaths and serious incidents on a regular basis. As a result of this, we know that the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is high among emergency service employees. So it is also important for organisations that appoint people to work with bereaved families and individuals to offer support to their staff.
  6. Moving on: Over time, some bereaved people will want to move on from volunteering or perhaps reduce their level of involvement due to changes in their circumstances. It is important not to make assumptions and check in with volunteers before approaching them to be involved in a campaign or event. Some may feel awkward about stepping away from or stopping volunteer work completely. Volunteer co-ordinators should have a system in place to review a volunteer's work and assess their needs. Look out for the signs that a bereaved person wants to move on and respect their wishes when they do.
  7. Anniversaries and life occasions: Bereaved families may want to mark dates that are significant to their loss such as birthdays and anniversaries. Organisations should be sensitive to these dates if families are volunteering with them.
  8. Litigation: Some bereaved people may be involved with pursuing compensation or legal recourse for negligence or lack of health and safety procedures after an accidental death. This will always be stressful and careful thought should be given to engaging volunteers to do community safety work during a criminal or civil case.
  9. Safeguarding and vetting: There are legislative requirements for safeguarding if using volunteers to work with children or vulnerable adults. These checks are there to protect individuals and organisations in the event of an allegation or incident.


This list provides some pointers to consider, to ensure that families, volunteers and organisations are mindful about the way they support each other. Organisations such as the NCVO and The Charity Commission have helpful guidance to help organisations who work with volunteers to ensure positive and valued relationships.


Dawn Whittaker
National Water Safety Forum

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Technical Project Manager – UK Water Incident Database


Help us to deliver a new, world-class, platform to assist in our efforts to reduce drowning and water-related harm across the UK.

We need a technical project manager to lead a team of engineers, data scientists, expert users and developers to deliver our new platform over the next 12 months.

We are at the mid-way point in the UK’s inaugural 10-year national drowning prevention strategy. Our collective ambition is to realise a 50% reduction in accidental drowning deaths by 2026. At the heart of the strategy are our collective injury data insights, centred on the Water
Incident Database (WAID), a jointly held registration system hosted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF).

You will be an experienced project manager with a deep understanding of technology, a track record of delivering platforms and data related solutions.

You will need to be comfortable working in a complex, multi-organisation environment, have an aptitude for working closely with both service users and senior leaders, and an ability to understand and meet diverse stakeholders’ needs. You will be able to translate these insights into the necessary deliverables and work packages.

We have recently completed a proof-of-concept exercise, and have a good understanding of our data model and architecture, clear views on preferred technologies, and an agreed governance stance, including our intention to deliver open data from the platform.

This project is sponsored by the NWSF, a network of more than 50 national organisations, including the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, UK Fire and Rescue Services, RoSPA, RLSS UK, sport governing bodies, local authorities, and major land and waterway owners. The NWSF is hosted by RoSPA.

This is a 12-month fixed-term contract. The successful candidate may have to undertake basic security vetting and will be employed by RoSPA. The role is predominantly home based, with occasional travel to cities within the UK. Interviews will be held w.c 12th November with a decision shortly thereafter.

We envisage a salary in the range of £75,000 p.a.

No agencies.

Please visit for more details and to apply for this role. For an informal discussion or more information, please contact Jenny James, Head of Human Resources, or David Walker, Head of Road and Leisure Safety.



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September newsletter from the National Water Safety Forum


Message from the Chair

This summer has been historic for the National Water Safety Forum.

Following a UN General Assembly resolution passed in April 2021, the first-ever World Drowning Prevention Day was held on Sunday July 25. Around the world, individuals and organisations came together to share a simple yet powerful message ‘anyone can drown, but no one should’. This was truly a milestone for all those who are working towards a future without drowning.

Tragically, we also saw a spike in accidental drownings during the UK heatwave earlier this summer. As temperatures started to soar on Friday July 16, sadly so did the number water-related incidents. We will not know the full extent of the loss of life during the heatwave until we publish the WAID report next year. However, we do know that in this period we were seeing roughly double the average number of water-related incidents we would expect to see in a ‘normal’ year.

With extreme weather events possibly here to stay, it is vital that members of the National Water Safety Forum learn the lessons from this summer and double down on our efforts to reduce the number of accidental drownings. 

On World Drowning Prevention Day, NWSF members demonstrated how we can have greater impact when we speak with one voice. We will carry forward that energy and unity of purpose to our ongoing Respect the Water Campaign.

We achieve so much more together. 

Until next time,
Dawn Whittaker
Chair of the National Water Safety Forum. 



World Drowning Prevention Day

For the first time in its 75 year history, the United Nations (UN) has adopted a resolution on drowning prevention. As part of the resolution, July 25th has been designated as World Drowning Prevention Day.

Over a five day period, in the run up to World Drowning Prevention Day,  more than 38,000 impressions were clocked up on the NWSF twitter account alone. Many NSWF member organisations and individuals shared messages and assets relating to World Drowning Prevention Day on their own channels.

In Scotland, The Kelpies, 30ft horse-head structures, were lit up in blue to mark this historical moment (see below). A number of national and regional outlets covered the awareness-raising day including: The Scotsman, The Telegraph  & Argus and Falkirk Herald.

Commenting on the first World Drowning Prevention Day, Dawn Whittaker, NWSF Chair said: “I know I speak for all members of the National Water Safety Forum when I say that I welcome the UN resolution on drowning prevention and this new awareness-raising day which is all the more poignant because of the recent spike in accidental drownings during the heatwave in July.

"I look forward to seeing the impact of World Drowning Prevention Day in the years to come.” 



Ministerial Round Table

In July, members of the National Water Safety Forum attended a roundtable discussion with UK Government Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security, Robert Courts MP.

The meeting was convened during ‘Maritime Safety Week’ in order to discuss the UN resolution on drowning prevention, swimming lessons in schools and the latest Water Incident Database (WAID) report. The discussion focused on the work of the  National Water Safety Forum and representations were made about drowning prevention at the highest levels of government. 



Emergency Services Day

Emergency Services Day (also known as 999 Day) is a national day across the UK that is supported by HM The Queen and is held annually on September 9.

#999Day highlights the work of the emergency services, promotes using the emergency services responsibly, educates the public about basic lifesaving skills, and advertises the many career and volunteering opportunities available with the services. 

The National Water Safety Forum is encouraging members to support 999 day by sharing messages on their social media channels. 

Download #999Day assets




Later this month, The Royal Life Saving Society will be launching their #BeAMate campaign, which encourages smart decision making whilst intoxicated around water. The campaign targets individuals to be responsible for their friends, if they have had too much to drink.  

To coincide the start of autumn term at some UK universities, the #BeAMate campaign will run from  September 19-26 and will resume on December 6- 12 as the Christmas party season begins.

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Save The Date: RoSPA Water Safety Conference Nov 18 

The RoSPA Water Safety Conference 2021 will be held online on the November 18 and will focus on current developments in water Safety in specific reference to the recent UN Resolution on drowning prevention and how the UK can work towards meeting this challenge. 

Through a global, national and local lens, the conference will focus on examples of research, partnership working, collaboration and the future for water safety and drowning prevention in the UK. 



Parliamentary Debate on Water Safety

 On Monday 12 July 2021, Catherine McKinnell MP,  led an UK Parliament E-petition debate relating to water safety to seek an enhancement to the current statutory requirement for water safety delivery in England.

The petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, called for improvements to water safety education in schools and was launched led by ‘Doing It For Dylan’ campaigner, Rebecca Ramsey MBE. 

At the conclusion of the debate the Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, made a commitment to open dialogue with the water safety sector and the NWSF.  NWSF colleagues have been proactively working on a proposal to move the conversation forward.

Watch the debate

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