girl in swimming pool: water safety how to prevent drowning in children

Drowning is one of the top five causes of accidental death in South Africa, and a disproportionate number of those fatalities occur in children. When you hear about a child drowning, most of us quickly assume it happened in a big body of water like the ocean or a pool. But that’s not always the case. In fact, young children can drown in less than 6cm of water (that’s about the height of an average drinking glass) and it takes less than a minute.

Drowning risks in your home

While swimming pools do pose a big drowning risk for kids, there are many other drowning hazards (some are even inside your home), and they might not even be on your radar. Children can – and do – drown in bodies of water that most of us wouldn’t even consider a danger. These include:

  • the bath
  • pet’s water bowls
  • toilets
  • buckets of water
  • drains
  • water features
  • puddles of water that collect after rain
  • cooler boxes filled with melted ice or dustbins that have filled with rain water

swimming pool and flotation device: how to prevent drowning in children water safety

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Drowning in children

The most dangerous times in a child’s life for potential drownings are, firstly, just as they begin to crawl or walk because often parents aren’t expecting them to be mobile so haven’t yet secured areas like the pool, and secondly, when they’re toddlers who can easily slip away from caregivers unnoticed. Remember that a baby or child who is drowning is unlikely to splash about or make a noise – it can happen without any noise or commotion, and is far quicker than you may think.

How to prevent drowning in children: home safety tips

  • Firstly, NEVER leave children unattended around water, whether it’s the bath, a swimming pool or an open drain – not even for 1 minute. And don’t leave young children under the supervision of older children or siblings.
  • Always have a cover or net over your swimming pool. Ideally, you should also have a fence with a childproof lock around the pool area.
  • Send your child for age-appropriate swimming, drown-proofing or water safety classes as soon as possible.
  • Cover any bodies of water that present drowning hazards – water features and bird baths can be covered with chicken wire or similar to prevent little ones from accidentally tumbling in.

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  • Avoid dressing your kids in blue swimsuits – brightly-coloured swimwear will be easier to spot, especially if a child is already below the surface.
  • Don’t leave toys in the pool when you’re not swimming – it can be tempting for toddlers who want to play with the toys to retrieve them, and fall in during the process.
  • If your child isn’t an experienced swimmer, try to always stay within arm’s reach of them while you’re swimming.
  • Set up ‘swimming pool ground rules‘ like no diving in the shallow end or running around the pool, and no pulling other people under water or pushing them in.
  • Parents, guardians and caregivers should all be trained in CPR.
  • Keep bathroom doors closed at all times and install a babyproof safety lock on your toilets.
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