Think you don't need to train your staff in water safety? Think again. Workplace water safety training is a legal requirement and thanks to climate change is more needed than ever.

Water-related incidents can pose significant risks to anyone working near water, from engineers and ecologists to council workers, drainage specialists and construction teams and grounds maintenance teams. Incidents can happen quickly and unexpectedly, and the consequences can be severe. It’s imperative, therefore, that organisations take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of their employees. Recognised and respected water safety training is more than a legal requirement; it’s a crucial investment in the wellbeing of your employees. 

Water safety training is no different to First Aid training or manual handling training; it’s all part of ensuring your employee are safe! 

However, water safety professionals are concerned that too many companies are failing to protect their staff from the risks. These include Paul Magee, principal and chief instructor of PGM Training, who has more than ten years experience delivering the RLSS UK’s National Water Safety Management Programme (NWSMP) to public and private organisations. 

Many companies, particularly in the private sector, are not aware of their responsibilities. They are very good at providing training for manual handling and working at height, etc., but water safety is just not on their radar, he says. 

Ironically, there is more need for comprehensive water safety training than ever before, says Chris Eades, owner of Bristol Maritime Academy, a leading provider of RLSS UK DEFRA training courses, which trained over 1,000 people in water safety last year alone. 

The impact of climate change, increased flooding incidents, and the need for people to work in flooded conditions means high-quality water safety training is more critical than ever,” he says. 

If you’re questioning the need to train your team to be safe by water, the chances are that you should already be investing in workplace water safety training. 

Understanding the risks 

Regardless of your industry, if your employees are working in or near water, they need appropriate training to be aware of the hazards and know how to keep themselves safe. 

Drowning, cold water shock and other water-related accidents are just some of the risks that should be addressed along with the correct use of personal protective equipment and public rescue equipment. Practical, high-quality training delivered by a trusted training provider will give employees the skills to identify and mitigate hazards and respond effectively to water emergencies. It could ultimately save lives. 

From thinking about the places where they can get out of the water if they were to fall in, to how to use that throw bag they’ve never opened, water safety training makes people consider the risks of working in and next to water. It’s the insurance you hope you never need,” says Chris. 

Choosing the right course 

As the UK’s leading provider of water safety education and training, RLSS UK and its partners offer a variety of training courses designed to meet the needs of those working close to or in water. 

Water Rescue Equipment Training (WRET) 

This two-hour course focuses on developing the skills and confidence of individuals in using rescue equipment and improvising when necessary. With delivery in a dry environment, the training covers open water hazards, cold water shock, types of rescues and Public Rescue Equipment (PRE). This course is designed for individuals in local communities, businesses responsible for public safety near water, organisations responsible for outdoor operatives working in or around water, and education establishments with water features. 

National Water Safety Management Programme DEFRA (NWSMP DEFRA)  

Following months of rigorous review, and developed with contributions from industry-leading experts, trainers and water safety specialists, RLSS UK has revised its respected NWSMP programme to meet current guidance from DEFRA (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and the Health and Safety Executive for those working on, in or near water during structured activities. The new programme is also endorsed by the Institute of Outdoor Learning. 

Suitable for employers in a wide range of industries, including teaching (field trips), construction, environmental health, leisure and emergency services, this programme is designed to equip anyone working in, on or near water with essential knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about managing water safety. The training has two levels to ensure candidates get the most out of the course. 

NWSMP Level 1 Water Safety Awareness is equivalent to DEFRA Module 1 Water & Flood Awareness. For teams working at the water’s edge, DEFRA Module 1 focuses on water and flood awareness, including generic open water hazards, risk management, land-based rescue techniques and personal protective equipment (PPE) and aquatic clothing. 

NWSMP Inland Waterways Module is the equivalent to DEFRA Module 2 Water & Flood First Responder. It is designed for first responders, and this level focuses on specific inland waterway hazards along with in-water skills. It covers inland-specific hazards, in-water rescue skills, personal safety, dynamic risk management and river crossing. 

Paul, who has worked in search and rescue for more than 30 years, welcomes the new addition to the programme. “I’ve worked to DEFRA standards for years and am very pleased they are part of the NWSMP training. It takes water safety training to another level; the public are essentially getting the same training as rescue professionals. 

There is also a DEFRA (Module 1) Flood and Awareness Course with Annexe H, which covers DEFRA 1 and includes a practical in-water element of self-rescues to meet the requirements set out in Annexe H. It covers the hazards associated with water, basic land-based rescue techniques, use of PPE and rescue equipment. 

What about PPE in relation to water safety training? 

The use of PPE is crucial in controlling risks at work. The PPE at Work Regulations 1992 place duties on employers to assess, maintain and provide suitable PPE, free of charge, when required. This includes buoyancy aid, lifejackets, helmets and clothing. The revision in April 2022 emphasises the need for employers to assess residual risk and provide PPE accordingly. Employers must ensure workers have sufficient information, instruction and training on PPE use so their workers know how to use PPE and when. 

Companies must prioritise comprehensive water safety training to equip their teams with the skills required to navigate potential risks. Such training increases awareness, especially in identifying hazards, and gives employees the ability to implement procedures to reduce risks and make informed choices in unpredictable situations to protect themselves and their colleagues. 

Click here to find out more about National Water Safety Management Programme (NWSMP) - DEFRA 

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