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Farm ponds and reservoirs prove hazardous for children

While integral to the operation of a farm and businesses, oxidation and effluent ponds and reservoirs pose grave danger for the young statistics show.

Fourteen people have drowned in effluent and oxidation ponds over the last decade.  Of those fatalities, six of those – 42 percent – are of children under five years of age. This statistic is harrowing and has a long-lasting impact on families and those in the community.

The inadequacy of fencing and the lack of equipment to get out of the pond or body of water once in the person or child are in there, plays a major factor in the deaths.

While there are standards for swimming pools under The Building Act there are no such rules relating to oxidation and effluent ponds found on farms, or for reservoirs.

In a paper to a professional conference of engineers (which is linked below) Graeme Wells, Associate Environmental Engineer for Beca Limited in Christchurch, New Zealand, presented a paper on the hazards relating to farm ponds, reservoirs, water storage containers and oxidation ponds.

Learnings from the fatalities and with special regard to children, Mr Wells stated that:

  • As children are not small adults and perceive things differently and that they cannot perceive potential water hazards nor able to take life-saving action when needed
  • Whilst ponds should have various exit points such as ladders and ropes, as children have less strength, co-ordination, and a lack of understanding these situations than adults proving that these items are ineffectual for children who end up in the water
  • Children, especially those under five, cannot read nor understand pond warning signs and they often cannot swim or tread water confidentially and be able to know how to save themselves
  • Stock proof fences are not necessarily child proof fences and
  • Children cannot climb up slippery pond sides and are less likely to have their cries heard

Ponds are magnets for children, with their smooth reflective surfaces. Featuring coloured buoys which resemble toys floating on the water and aerators splashing water around which looks like a water park, they prove enticing to young ones.

While current guidance in the form of various edicts from farming and engineering organisations that suggest fencing for the various oxidation and effluent ponds, the advice focuses on keeping animals out of the ponds rather than protecting children and adults.

Mr Well’s recommendations involve installing proper fencing that has no gaps or holes that children can climb; improving signage; using marine grade ropes and buoys; and installing ladders on the side of the ponds to give adults a chance to pull themselves from the water.

Water Safety New Zealand also recommend adult supervision of children when near ponds or reservoirs.


Report on Oxidation and Effluent Ponds

Pond death proves a mystery

Mystery surrounds the death of Gore toddler who was found in an oxidation pond in Gore.

Gore child drowns in oxidation pond - news article

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