Water Safety essential as warmer weather approaches

In South Africa, 60 to 90% of drowning incidents occur in residential pools, and it is one of the top causes of unnatural deaths among South African children. Most concerning, however, is that 90% of children who drown are actually under supervision. In most cases, according to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, the supervising adult knows that the child is in or near water, but is distracted long enough for the child to drown.


“You simply cannot take your eyes off young children when they’re around water. As little as 5cm of water could pose a risk for a small child. Don’t assume that because a child knows how to swim that they’re not at risk of drowning,” cautions Fedhealth who last year noted an increase in drowning admissions, particularly in coastal areas.


Last year, the City of Joburg proposed new by-laws that would require all swimming pool owners to erect fences around their pools and have pool nets. “Although these by-laws were scrapped for various reasons, pool safety remains a key responsibility of any pool owner. Fence off your pool, install a pool net, and get a lockable cover for Jacuzzis or sunken baths. These are all important steps to ensure your child’s safety around the pool.”


It’s important that those supervising the swimmers are vigilant at all times, because it might not always be obvious that a child or adult is in trouble in the water. Look out for signs such as a swimmer who is struggling to breathe, if the swimmer’s strokes become erratic or if the body sinks so that only the head is visible above the water.


“The most important thing is safety – don’t try to rescue someone if it is going to endanger your life. We hear so many stories of people who have drowned after jumping in to try save someone else,” advises Fedhealth.


Once the swimmer is on dry land, look out for signs such as labored breathing, uncontrolled coughing, a blue tinged skin, vomiting, a slow, weak pulse or if the person is losing consciousness. A basic course in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can make all the difference in a life or death situation. Below are some tips on what to do in a near-drowning situation:


  • If you suspect a spinal injury (i.e. following a diving accident) and CPR isn’t required, don’t move the person to land. Keep him lying face up in the water until help arrives. Take care to keep his head and neck in alignment at all times.
  • If the person has to be moved, slide a board under their head, back and buttocks, taking care to keep the head and neck aligned.
  • If the person isn’t breathing but has a pulse, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation immediately. Don’t waste time by trying to drain swallowed water.
  • If the person starts breathing again, they’re likely to vomit. Turn their head to the side or place them on their side to clear the airways. If you suspect a spine injury, take great care to keep the head and neck aligned.
  • If there’s no pulse, place the person on a hard surface and do CPR. Take care not to extend the head backwards but make sure that adequate chest expansion is possible.
  • Place the person in the recovery position if there are no spinal injuries. This position ensures that the airways remain clear and open, and also prevents choking.
  • Keep the person warm with dry clothes, blankets, towels and/or black refuse bags to prevent hypothermia.
  • Call a doctor if someone has nearly drowned, even if they’ve recovered completely. All near-drowning victims should be observed in hospital for 24 hours.


Memorise the number for emergency services in your area and keep the number saved in your cell phone or near your landline telephone,” advises Fedhealth. The national emergency number for Netcare 911 is 082-911.



Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, http://www.healthofchildren.com/N-O/Near-Drowning.html