Childsafe SA warns of drownings

Fr3kls Aquatics gives swimming lessons to children who might otherwise have never seen a swimming pool before.

As the days become warmer and more families gather at the beach or the pool, the risk of child drownings grows, warns Childsafe South Africa.

The injury-prevention unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital says drowning is the second leading cause of death among children in SA.

Children under 15 account for 30% of all fatal drownings, and it’s the leading cause of death in children under 5.

“Drowning is a fast and silent killer. There can be little screaming, splashing and waving. Once under water, a child can lose consciousness after 90 – 120 seconds. Irreversible brain damage occurs after four to six minutes of submersion,” says executive director Yolande Baker.

A child can drown in as little as 4cm of water – drownings can happen not only in swimming pools but also in buckets of water and toilets.

Outside the home, canals, ditches, vleis, rivers, dams and the sea all pose drowning risks for children.

“Child drownings happen all year round. Not all drownings are captured to reflect the true burden on child injury and health. This is because most of the child-drowning incidents lead to death, which a hospital and any health facilities would not be able to put in their records. Regardless, there is little focus on these preventable injuries and causes of deaths in South African communities.”

There are, she says, several precautions one can take to prevent drowning:

● Teach children, whatever their age, to always respect water.

● Teach children at an early age how to swim.

● Children should always wear a life jacket when in water, and those with special needs should be provided with the right life jacket (adaptive life jacket) that meets their needs and should be supportive and comfortable.

● Children with special needs are mostly likely not able to swim independently so they should always have someone with them in the water.

● Actively supervise your children when near water.

● Never leave a small child alone in a bath.

● Always support babies in the bath to avoid them slipping under the water.

● Keep the toilet doors closed and the toilet lid down when you have children at home.

● Even if you do not have children, your neighbour’s children can drown in your pool. The law requires that pools should be fenced off from the road or a neighbour’s property.

● Restrict access to pools by fencing your pool with a self-closing latch.

● Cover your swimming pool with a safety net and ensure there are no large gaps that small children can get through.

● Discourage riding tricycles or bicycles near pools.

● Discourage running and playing games near water.

● Equip your pool with basic rescue devices.

● Do not let your children swim when there is a warning sign or when there are strong currents.

● When you have children with you only visit beaches that have lifeguards on duty.

● Do not let children use floating objects, toys at the beach or on dams.

The City and the National Sea Rescue Institute have launched a custom-built Drowning Prevention Operational Hub at Table View beachfront.

Mayoral committee member for community services and health Dr Zahid Badroodien said it was at a beach that had become a drowning hot spot, accounting for four of Cape Town’s 16 fatal drownings last summer.

“Most of these incidents were related to strong rip currents, which are prevalent along a 2km stretch of the coast,” he said.

The hub would warn the public about the dangerous conditions at the beach and direct them to safer beaches, he said.If your child starts to struggle in water immediately call a lifeguard or 112 from your cell phone for help. For more information on preventing drowning, call ChildSafe at 021 685 5208 or visit