Public Water Safety Communication and Information Systems: The Research, Development and Implementation of the UK National Guidelines and Specifications for Coastal Public Rescue Equipment

TitlePublic Water Safety Communication and Information Systems: The Research, Development and Implementation of the UK National Guidelines and Specifications for Coastal Public Rescue Equipment
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsWills, S, Scott, T
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Learning Outcomes
  1. To understand the need for effective PRE around the world to reduce drownings.
  2. To learn the PRE testing methodology and research/trials undertaken.
  3. To understand what the UK has implemented to reduce drownings through effective PRE use.
References
  1. RNLI/National Beach Safety Council (2006)
  2. Marine Conservation Society (2007)
  3. Marine Conservation Society (2007)
  4. RNLI/Ipsos MORI research (2006)
  5. RNLI/Prescient research, RNLI Beach Lifeguards and Beach Safety (2005)
  6. Tim Scott, University of Plymouth (2007)
  7. International Maritime Organization, International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
  8. BS EN ISO 1346:2004 Fibre ropes. Polypropylene split film, monofilament and multifilament (PP2) and polypropylene high tenacity (PP3). 3-, 4-& 8- strand ropes
Full Text

Abstract

Context

In the UK someone is rescued at a beach every 90 minutes [1]. A number of factors link together to form the drowning chain and, using the drowning chain model (see Figure 1), the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is preventing drownings and water-related accidents by breaking each link in the chain. Priority should always be given to breaking the drowning chain early, through education, safety advice and information, and supervision. However, if appropriate control measures are not in place or fail to break the early links, the last, and only, link left to break is people's inability to cope along with the lack of effective public rescue equipment (PRE).

Figure 1 Drowning chain model

Project/partners

Previously there were no standards in the UK to assist coastal managers with determining and managing their PRE requirements. Much of the equipment found on UK beaches is probably not fit for purpose and, in some cases, has contributed to further drownings. This is why the RNLI, in consultation with other key water-related bodies, has produced the world's first coastal managers' user guide for PRE, entitled A guide to coastal public rescue equipment.

Working with two UK universities, a robust testing methodology was developed and implemented with trials undertaken in a survival tank and at various coastal environments.

Results and discussion

Over 500 public trials took place to identify the most effective PRE equipment. Research was also conducted on the following aspects of PRE: emergency communications, most suitable PRE locations,
maintenance solutions, auditing tools and frequency of checks, PRE signage, user-instruction information and ways to reduce vandalism and theft.

The 50-page guide, A guide to coastal public rescue equipment, was launched in the UK in June 2007. Copies have now been distributed to all UK coastal managers and private beach owners.

Project Context

With the UK having some of Europe's finest beaches, it is unsurprising that millions of people enjoy the UK coastline every year. However, with an increasing trend for recreational activity on our beaches and inshore waters, UK maritime rescue services have never been so busy helping people in difficulty.

There are over 7,000 miles of coastline in the UK and over 1,100 designated bathing beaches [2]. However, only 254 of these are lifeguarded at peak times during the summer season [3]. The UK Government has recently launched a consultation paper to allow more open access to the English coastline. There is also a growing increase in the number of people using the coastline for leisure, especially walking, swimming and extreme sports such as surfing, windsurfing, sea kayaking and kitesurfing which will result in more people placing demands on the coastline.

With 63% of the UK's population visiting the coast [4] in the UK at least once a year and only 4% of these people considering safety features when selecting a beach to visit [5], assistance required from the UK maritime emergency services is increasing. In 2006, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's (RNLI) rescue services (232 lifeboat stations and 62 lifeguard units) were the busiest on record since the RNLI's formation in 1824.

However, with emergency response times varying depending on location, severity of incident and early notification, many situations may require early intervention from the public and lay persons before the professional rescue services arrive.

It is during the period between an incident occurring and the rescue services arriving that public rescue equipment (PRE) is required and can make the difference between casualty survival and a fatality. The current provision of PRE in the UK is largely inconsistent and based primarily on supplier advice rather than researched guidelines. In certain locations where coastal managers are experienced and have conducted an effective risk assessment, correct PRE practices may be in place. However, locations where managers are only partially responsible for beaches and/or have limited beach management experience may have no PRE provision.

There is currently no legislation or mandatory requirement for PRE on UK beaches. PRE provision is based on duty of care and risk management processes such as risk assessments and historical information.

Over recent years beach operators have been in doubt about the most appropriate PRE to be used at coastal locations and this has led to unsuitable equipment being installed. In many cases this has been identified as a major factor contributing to deaths and injuries.

In 2004, the RNLI identified the need for standard guidance for coastal public rescue equipment in the UK. The main factors that influenced the RNLI's decision to develop a national industry standard and guidance include the number of deaths that could have been prevented through effective PRE management, coastal managers requesting practical guidance, limited international guidance available to adopt in the UK, and current PRE provision being generally ineffective and not fit for purpose.

Project/partners

Programme development

The programme development comprised:

  1. Forming a working group
  2. Reviewing existing standards
  3. Definitions of coastal types
  4. Testing methodology and trials
  5. Findings
  6. Compiling and launching a national guide

1. Forming a working group

A PRE working group was formed to ensure that the PRE guidelines were agreed and promoted by all UK organisations involved in water safety and maritime rescue.

The working group included:

  • RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) - Chair
  • RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)
  • RLSS UK (The Royal Life Saving Society UK)
  • MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency)
  • Dorset Fire and Rescue Service
  • ENCAMS (Environmental Campaigns)
  • SLSA GB (The Surf Life Saving Association of Great Britain)
  • Carrick District Council
  • NWSF (National Water Safety Forum)
  • NBSC (National Beach Safety Council)

The RNLI together with ROSPA, RLSS UK, University of Plymouth and University Wales Institute Cardiff undertook several key stages of research to help develop the national guidelines and product specifications.

2. Reviewing existing standards

The University Wales Institute Cardiff conducted a literature review for this project including any existing standards. Information that was found mainly related to ancillary devices such as marine equipment or standards connected to lifesaving appliances. Although the majority of these national, European and international standards are aimed at the shipping industry, appropriate elements have been consulted and incorporated into the new guide. There was, however, very little research identified that related directly to PRE.

3. Definitions of coastal types

In order to develop appropriate PRE for the UK coastal environment it was paramount that equipment was designed and managed to suit the type of environment in which it would be sited at. Each coastal environment has different features and a coastal site may also have more than one type of feature (see Figure 2).

The four main types identified [6] were:

  • rocky coasts
  • beaches
  • man-made coasts
  • tidal inlets and estuaries.

Figure 2
Generalised diagram of possible coastal environments present within a UK coastal system

a. Rocky coasts

Rocky coasts consist of any coastal environment where rock headlands, rock outcrops on a beach, or cliffs reach the shoreline. They can take on either a steep or a gradual profile depending on the type of rock being eroded and the amount of wave energy acting on it.

A section of the coast or beach may fall into this category if at any time it is submerged at high water, thereby allowing the shoreline to interact with the cliff face creating a sheer drop into the water.

b. Beaches

A beach is a wave-deposited accumulation of sediment and can exist on any shoreline exposed to waves where there is sufficient sediment supply. A beach is often defined as lying between the point at which the waves first move sediment on the seabed (this can be to a depth greater than 10m on high energy beaches) to the upper limit of the shoreline that would reach its maximum height during a spring tide (this height is increased by more than 1m in the UK during storm conditions).

The critical parameter for a PRE assessment is the presence of a steep beach profile within any section of the intertidal zone (the area of the beach that is submerged by the tide during some point within the tidal cycle).

A steep section of beach is defined as being any part of the intertidal zone that possesses a slope of 1:12 or steeper. This slope resembles the steepness that will result in a person of average height being out of their depth within 25m of the shoreline.

Extreme storm sea levels must be taken into account (possibly researching historical storm sea levels) as the level of spring high water can increase by more than 1m in certain areas during severe storms.

The hazardous areas specific to the provision of PRE are represented by the shaded intertidal beach slope areas on the following diagrams (Figures 3 and 4) where the beach slope/gradient is greater than 1:12.

For the purpose of a PRE risk assessment, the beach environment is broken down into three distinct categories:

  1. reflective steep beach (steeply shelving)
  2. reflective/intermediate beach containing steep section(s) (medium shelving)
  3. intermediate/dissipative beach with no steep sections (shallow shelving)

i. Reflective steep beach (Figure 3)

Figure 3
Generalised diagram of a reflective steep beach

The shaded intertidal beach slope area indicates the zone of potential hazard where the beach slope is greater than 1:12.

Typical characteristics (indicated on diagram):

  • beach slope remains steep (slope of > 1:12) throughout the tidal cycle
  • beach consists of very coarse sand or gravel/boulders
  • beach width of approximately 100m
  • low waves and short surf zone (area where waves break).

ii. Reflective/intermediate beach type with steep sections (Figure 4)

Figure 4
Generalised diagram of reflective/intermediate beach type with steep sections

The shaded intertidal beach slope area indicates the zone of potential hazard where the beach slope is greater than 1:12.

Typical characteristics (indicated on diagram):

  • sections of the intertidal beach are steeper than 1:12
  • often there is a steep upper beach near the high tide level and a much shallower gradient/beach slope throughout the lower beach towards the low tide level
  • the upper beach is often coarse (sand, gravel or boulders) with a sandy lower beach
  • beach width of approximately 100â€"600m

A wide variety of beach types can possess these basic characteristics.

iii. Intermediate/dissipative beach with no steep sections (Figure 5)

Figure 5
Generalised diagram of intermediate/dissipative beach type with no steep sections where beach slope is greater than 1:12.

Typical characteristics (indicated on diagram):

  • no sections of the intertidal beach are steeper than 1:12
  • the beach is very wide (approximately 500m+) with a shallow beach slope/gradient
  • extreme sea levels caused by storms can dramatically increase the sea level height above that due to tidal effects alone.

c. Man-made coasts

Man-made coasts consist of any coastal environment where man-made structures are present at the shoreline and occupy a position within the intertidal zone. This may occur in combination with any of the other coastal environments described. Common coastal man-made structures are:

  • harbour walls
  • sea walls
  • breakwaters
  • jetties
  • groynes
  • piers.

The critical parameter for determining if PRE is required is the presence of a steep slope within all or any section of the intertidal zone (the area of the beach that is submerged by the tide during some point with the tidal cycle).

In the case of many man-made coastal structures, a near vertical drop into the water is present. It is important to remember that extreme storm sea levels must be taken into account in this environment.

d. Tidal inlets and estuaries

Tidal inlets and estuaries can be found along many sections of the UK coast. They vary in scale from small streams to large estuaries and tidal inlets more than 1km wide. Both tidal inlets and estuaries can occur in the same environment. For the purpose of a PRE risk assessment both represent similar hazards.

There are two key hazards presented by this coastal environment:

  1. The presence of an intertidal slope greater than 1:12.
    This will result in a person of average height being out of their depth within 25m of the shoreline.
  2. Fast moving water.
    This can cause water users to loose their footing and transport them to deeper water; currents can transport the water user faster than the user can swim.
    These environments are highly dynamic and currents can be controlled both by tidal movement and freshwater output of rivers, meaning hazards can vary vastly throughout the year.

4. Testing methodology and trials

Testing methodology was developed in order to measure the effectiveness of the PRE items tested. The methodology was designed both for the rescuer and the casualty as well as general health and safety concerns. The trials comprised of five stages:

  • health and safety requirements
  • survival tank tests
  • tests using lifeguards (the rescuers) at three UK coastal locations
  • tests using members of the public (the casualties) at six UK coastal locations (500 samples)
  • manufacturing ability tests.

Over 40 items of PRE equipment from across the world were tested during a 2-year trials programme. Items included throw bags, life rings, Frisbee devices, throwable lifejackets and gas-propelled lines. Each PRE item was tested against certain criteria and measured against its performance. Various questions were also answered during the trial stages (see Table 1).

Table 1 Criteria used when testing PRE equipment

Test criteria Questions
Buoyancy
  • Does the line float?
  • Is the flotation/buoyancy able to help support the casualty with or without pulling the device in?
Surface
  • Does the PRE have a soft surface/skin to reduce impact damage to the casualty?
Shape and form
  • What is the equipment’s shape?
Maximum distance of line
  • Does the line have an adequate length and thickness?
Visibility for rescuer and casualty
  • Is the line visible?
  • Does the PRE have retro-reflective tape to aid visibility at nighttime?

Deployment for rescuer and ability of casualty to grab equipment

  • handholds
  • firm grip
  • Does the PRE have minimum instructions such as pictograms and a maximum reading time of 10 seconds?
  • Does the PRE have a handle/grip to aid to throwing technique?
  • Does the handle/grip on both ends of the PRE device allow instant release by the casualty and rescuer?
Firm support
  • Is the flotation/buoyancy able to help support the casualty with or
    without pulling the device in?
Potential to do harm to casualty
  • Does the PRE have a soft surface/skin to reduce impact damage to the casualty?
Easy to retrieve

  • from a vertical drop
  • from a horizontal drop/throw
  • easy to reuse/throw again
  • Is the PRE easy to repack and throw again?
Effectiveness of rescue device
  • Measure the accuracy of throw. Measure the throwing distances with casualties positioned at 5m, 10m, 15m, 20m and 25m from the shoreline.
  • Measure the accuracy to within reach, 2m and over 2m from the casualty.
  • Measure the throwing distance if over 25m.
Other
  • Is the PRE durable to sustain long-term exposure to outside environments?
  • Is PRE housing required?

Results

5. Findings

Forty-one items of PRE were tested. During each stage of testing a device specification was developed and items that did not meet the specification were then removed from the tests (see Table 2).

Table 2 Number or PRE items that meet test parameters

Type of test Number of PRE items that meet test parameters
(out of original 41 items)
Health and safety requirements
16
Survival tank
11
Using coastal lifeguards
5
Using members of the coastal public
2–3
Manufacturing ability tests
2–3

The stringent tests carried out during the research stages revealed the following key conclusions:

  • PRE that requires the rescuer to enter the water to reach a casualty should not be used, for examplea personal flotation device with a line attached
  • PRE should have inherent buoyancy to support an adult casualty whilst in the water
  • a PRE device should be retrievable once deployed and then reusable
  • the line should float and have a breaking strain of no less than 0.5 tonne
  • the line should be no longer than 25m plus any additional drop to the water
  • the PRE should be of a weight that is not overly affected by wind conditions and should not present a danger to the casualty
  • minimum instructions should be presented in order, to reduce confusion and deployment time
  • PRE is not a suitable control measure for some types of shallow shelving beaches.

Of the 41 items of PRE tested only 16 met the health and safety requirements. Of these 16, only 11 passed the survival tank tests. Only 5 of these 11 items passed the tests carried out by lifeguards and of these final 5 items of PRE, only 2–3 items met both the manufacturing ability tests and those carried out by members of the public. These final items proved to be the most effective types of PRE for different types of coastal environment.

The three types of PRE suggested for general public use are:

  • a throw line with flotation
  • a small to medium-sized life ring
  • a large-sized life ring.

Each specific type of PRE is suited to a particular type of coastal environment (see Table 3).

Table 3 Recommended PRE for different coastal environments

Coastal environment Recommended PRE
Beaches Shallow shelving PRE is not generally suitable for shallow shelving beaches where man-made or natural hazards /drops are not present during any tidal state.
Medium and/or steeply shelving Small to medium-sized life ring
Rocky coasts   Throw bag (especially where frequent strong currents occur)
Small to medium-sized life ring
Tidal inlets and estuaries   Throw bag (most suitable for swift-water locations)
Small to medium-sized life ring
Man-made coasts
  1. Harbour walls, piers and breakwaters and anywhere where there is a straight drop between the rescuer and the casualty.
  2. Where the casualty might not be easily recovered from the water (no obvious access/exit points).
  3. Locations with possible multiple casualties (where boats frequently moored or harbour walls accessible to the public).
Large-sized life ring
  In all other man-made coastal situations, other than those mentioned above Small to medium-sized life ring

PRE specifications

Life ring

Figure 6 Life ring

Flotation

A positive flotation/buoyancy of at least 50N to help support the casualty in the water.

Weight and dimensions

The small to medium-sized ring should have a weight of 1– 2kg and a diameter of 18–24 inches (45–61cm).

The large-sized ring can have a diameter of 25–32 inches (63–81 cm). Please refer to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) [7] for specifications regarding large SOLAS-approved life rings.

Line

The line must be able to float, be highly visible, have a maximum length of 25m plus any expected maximum drop, have a thickness of 9.5–13.5mm and be made of polypropylene staple. It must be coiled in a clockwise direction or in a bag that is easy to check and deploy freely.

The line should have a minimum of 0.5 tonne breaking strain and should, where possible, have unique coloured strands to assist with identifying theft. The line should have little or no memory to be repacked effectively.

Please note, polypropylene staple rope should always conform to BS EN ISO 1346:2004 [8]. This type of line is the only MCA-approved safety rope.

Features

The life ring must have retro-reflective tape on four points to aid visibility at night-time and it must be durable to sustain long-term exposure to outside environmental conditions.

The life-ring must be foam filled (polyurethane) or made of a solid mass (foam) to prevent water entering the item. The unit should be brightly coloured (ideally red and white or orange). A grip handle is recommended to aid the throwing technique and there should be a rope attached to at least four points around the ring, made to the same or similar line specification detailed above.

User information

PRE should display accurate minimum instructions, for example pictograms, with a maximum reading time of 10 seconds.

Throw bag

Figure 7 Throw bag

Flotation

A positive flotation/buoyancy of at least 40N to help support the casualty in the water.

Line

The line must be able to float, be highly visible, have a maximum length of 25m plus any expected maximum drop, have a thickness of 6–13.5mm and be made of polypropylene staple. It must be coiled in a bag that is easy to check and deploy freely.

The line should have a minimum of 0.5 tonne breaking strain and should, where possible, have unique coloured strands to assist with identifying theft. The line should have little or no memory to be repacked effectively. The line should have no looped end and it is important that the rescuer if required can release the line quickly.

Please note, polypropylene staple rope should always conform to BS EN ISO 1346:2004 [8]. This type of line is the only MCA-approved safety rope.

Features

The throw bag must have retro-reflective tape on the buoyed section to aid visibility at night-time and it must be durable to sustain long-term exposure to outside environmental conditions. The unit should be brightly coloured (ideally red, yellow or orange).

User information

PRE should display accurate minimum instructions, for example pictograms, with a maximum reading time of 10 seconds.

Discussion

The research programme carried out indicated the key types of PRE required. If used effectively the PRE can reduce the chances of drowning through third party assistance but PRE provision on its own does not prevent incidents occurring.

PRE provision should only be considered in conjunction with a full coastal risk assessment and should form part of a strategy to prevent accidents and fatalities. Managing risk in the coastal environment requires the systematic application of management policies, procedures and practices to the tasks of identifying, analysing, treating and monitoring risk. PRE is only one of several control measures; risk assessment must take a holistic approach when determining the most effective actions and control measures to implement. Other control measures that can reduce risk and the likelihood of incident include education, signage, lifesaving facilities and zoning.

PRE is not a suitable control measure for all types of coastal environments. Many shallow shelving beaches, especially those with large tidal ranges, are often unsuitable for PRE devices.

Larger style life rings currently found at the majority of UK coastal locations are not a suitable form of PRE apart from areas where there is a straight drop between the rescuer and the casualty and where little or no throwing is needed, such as harbour walls, piers and breakwaters. They can also be used where the casualty might not easily be recovered from the water (for example, where there are no obvious access/exit points such as ladders, slipway or steps) and also where there is a possibility of multiple casualties (such as where boats are frequently moored or harbour walls that are accessible to the public).

Emergency communication devices should also be considered at coastal locations as the reliance of mobile phone reception (coverage and reliability) is not always guaranteed. Emergency communications should not replace general PRE but should supplement if where necessary. Having devices such as emergency telephones allows the emergency services to pinpoint incident locations, speeding up the search and rescue call out times.

6. Compiling and launching a national guide

The completion of the in-depth research programme has led to the compilation by the RNLI of A guide to coastal public rescue equipment. This is a national set of guidelines in the form of a 50-page guide and is the first of its kind, not only in the UK but worldwide. The guide contains information about the research and provides the six key steps to carrying out a risk assessment and determining the most effective PRE control measures at various coastal locations:

  1. Understand coastal environments.
  2. Understand risk management and carry out a risk assessment.
  3. Select appropriate PRE.
  4. Select emergency communications.
  5. Locate PRE and emergency communications.
  6. Consider information signs, user information, housing, maintenance and advice on reducing vandalism. The guide has been distributed to all coastal managers in the UK with the aim of implementation over the next few years as PRE is replaced or readdressed through risk assessment. Coastal managers will be able to make better-informed decisions about their PRE requirements that result from a risk assessment.

A strategy has also been developed to introduce a national youth education programme in schools to help educate school children about the importance of PRE, effective PRE deployment and promote key messages to reduce vandalism and theft.

With credible and robust research, this guide is in a position to set a world benchmark for coastal public rescue equipment. The benefits of standardising types of PRE are immeasurable but one thing is certain: UK beaches will become safer as more operators adopt these standard measures.

Copies of the guide can be obtained from Steve Wills, Beach Safety Manager, RNLI, West Quay Road, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1HZ, United Kingdom; email: swills@rnli.org.uk; tel: + 44 (0)1202 663465.