Water safety and licensing in Northumbria

Water safety has always been a priority for Northumbria Police. When the hospitality sector reopened following its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many pubs, restaurants and bars began to encourage customers to eat and drink outside. In areas like Newcastle and Gateshead, this meant that many people were drinking next to the Quayside. Unfortunately, on warm days this led to a significant increase in reports of people participating in unsafe activity in the water, such as ‘tombstoning’ and jumping into the water with glasses full of alcohol.


Challenge and context

Water safety has always been a priority for Northumbria Police. When the hospitality sector reopened following its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many pubs, restaurants and bars began to encourage customers to eat and drink outside. In areas like Newcastle and Gateshead, this meant that many people were drinking next to the Quayside. Unfortunately, on warm days this led to a significant increase in reports of people participating in unsafe activity in the water, such as ‘tombstoning’ and jumping into the water with glasses full of alcohol.

Initially Northumbria police, the fire and rescue service and the local councils tried to tackle this through a social media campaign and regional news coverage to raise awareness of the dangers of cold-water shock. Whilst this campaign reached a lot of people, it did not resolve the issue. 

What we did

Northumbria police, the local councils and the fire and rescue service worked in partnership to encourage licensing officers and hospitality businesses near the waterside to receive throw bag training so that they are better able to assist someone who is in trouble in the water. A throw bag is a rescue device with a length of rope stuffed loosely into a bag which can be used to help someone who is in trouble in water. This course also includes training on mental health: first, on how to approach a vulnerable person and how best to assist them and second, how to locate, contact and support a person who might be suicidal.

Northumbria police also worked with local licensing authorities to make new applications for licences subject to mandatory conditions on water safety and throw bag training. When a new licence for a premises is granted, licensed premises are issued with water safety packs which include tips for keeping safe in water, as well as information on how to keep safe when enjoying recreational activity in the water, such as jet skiing or paddle boarding. When licensing officers do licensing visits, they promote the importance of throw bag training and share information on the police and council’s most recent work on water safety. Additionally, Northumbria’s Crime Design Officer has worked with local councils’ planning teams to ensure that premises that are granted planning permission display signage to raise awareness of water safety.

The difference we made

These measures have had a significant impact. There have been instances where a person has got in trouble in the water and Northumbria police was able to identify staff in nearby pubs and bars who have had throw bag training and who have then been able to assist with saving the individual who was in the water. Additionally, there have been no reports of tombstoning since August 2021. Licensed premises have also been very supportive of these measures.

What’s next?

Northumbria police, the fire and rescue service, and local councils would like to expand the programme and ensure that Security Industry Association accredited security staff receive throw bag training. Additionally, refresher training will be offered to licensed premises who may have new members of staff.

Contact

Suzanne Crossley, Sergeant Marine, Northumbria Police

Suzanne.Crossley.8722@northumbria.police.uk