Consumer watchdogs issue warnings about air loungers
Safety concerns are mounting about using inflatable loungers in water after reports of near drownings.
Consumer protection authorities are warning Australians not to use air loungers in water after two people nearly died while floating on them in backyard pools on Christmas Day.
The inflatable loungers were heavily advertised on social media in the lead-up to Christmas and were popular gifts. Prices can range from $20 for a cheap copy on eBay to $130 for a branded product.
Anthea Chester, a paramedic from Pakenham, in Victoria, said she was watching her daughter Hollie float on a blue Now Lounger in her friend's backyard pool when the fabric split and engulfed her body.
"She suddenly disappeared into the middle of it. She then emerged standing up, thank goodness, because the water was shoulder height and she was encased in the parachute material," she said.
"It was almost vacuum-sealed to her face because it was so wet and so heavy and she said, 'Mum, I can't breathe, I can't get this off, help me'.
"I was about to jump in but because she was standing just out of arm's reach, she managed to pull the vacuum seal off her face and we said calmly walk to the side of the pool and we'll get it off you, which she did."
Ms Chester said it took a while to pull it off because the material was waterlogged and heavy.
After lodging a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, she shared her experience on Facebook, which has since attracted 6600 comments and been shared 18,500 times.
"Some comments are quite nasty like, 'Why didn't you read the warning labels'. But there were no warnings, no instructions, no tags, saying not to use it in water. There are plenty of photos showing people using it in water," she said.
"Others are saying I used a cheap, inferior copy and that the original one is safe, but what is the original one? They're generally all the same thing, a plastic, blow-up thing."
Consumer watchdogs, including NSW Fair Trading and Consumer Affairs Victoria, said they were aware of reports of the lining of inflatable air loungers splitting while being used in water, presenting a drowning hazard.
They said product safety regulators have met under the leadership of the ACCC to review safety concerns and are making inquiries with relevant suppliers.
"At this time, product safety regulators including NSW Fair Trading are warning consumers not to use inflatable air loungers as flotation devices in water, including in pools," a statement reads.
"Adults are urged to take steps to remove inflatable air loungers from locations in or around water (including pools) and to ensure they are not used by children as flotation devices."
Fairfax Media contacted Now Loungers, based in California, US, for comment but the company did not respond before deadline.
Nevil Whitlock, a 76-year-old retiree from The Entrance in NSW, also nearly drowned on Christmas Day when the Now Lounger he was sitting on split and pulled him into the pool.
"It completely wrapped around him but thankfully the water was chest high. I had a broken toe and a boot and was about to jump in, when he gasped for air looking completely panicked," Mr Whitlock's daughter Julie Kosy said.
"He is quite fit, but had it been a small child, it could have been a lot worse. I sent an email to the website saying you have to take all the photos down of people using it on water, and a guy called Burt emailed back saying they would take our comments into consideration. But nothing's been done about it."
The owners of "Australian owned and operated" Bondi Beach Lounge, which sell their product for $60 a pop, said they were shocked by the near drownings.
But they insisted that quality varied and the market had been flooded with potentially dangerous and poor quality products.
"We spent time ensuring our product is as safe as we could make it by using a durable Ripstop nylon to prevent accidents like those shown through social media," they said.
"We were the first to introduce instructions on the product to ensure that children are not to use it without adult supervision and that it is not to be used solely as a flotation device."
Their website currently says the product "is suitable for use in the pool, surf or lake. However it is not a flotation device."
Consumers are encouraged to report any incidents resulting from the use of an inflatable air lounge online to the ACCC at www.accc.gov.au or by telephone to NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20.