Advice Column, Baby, Child, Health, Lifestyle, Pregnancy & Baby, Toddler

Child drowning – a leading cause of childhood death that is entirely preventable

  • PowerPlastics Pool Covers
  • Category Advice Column, Baby, Child, Health, Lifestyle, Pregnancy & Baby, Toddler

Drowning remains one of the top causes of unnatural childhood death in South Africa and for every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage from the lack of oxygen that occurs in a near-drowning. Manufacturer of the leading child safety pool cover in SA, PowerPlastics Pool Covers, is on a drive to remind parents that drownings are entirely preventable with multiple layers of safety applied to the pool. 

The PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover and adult supervision at all times should be included in these layers of safety at all times. 

The PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover offers parental peace of mind as it completely seals off the entire pool. The PVC cover is drawn over strong aluminium batons that rest on the coping, and a tamperproof ratchet fastening system makes it impossible for a small child to access the water. Small drainage holes prevent rain or sprinkler water from collecting on the cover as just a few millimetres of water can be fatal to a curious child. The cover withstands up to 220kg and is easily deployed by two people, or it can be semi-automated for single person usage. 

“For years we have been educators in pool safety for children and, with our solid safety cover, parents not only get peace of mind, the cover also allows significant savings on water, power and chemicals, unlike alternatives such as nets and fences which still leave the water exposed,” says Carolyn Idas of PowerPlastics Pool Covers. 

“But a cover only saves lives if it is actually on the pool. Being lazy about re-securing a pool after use is surprisingly common. For this reason, we developed our safety cover so that it is hassle-free and does not require brute force. Next time you ‘can’t be bothered’, consider the alternative which could be a drowning due to negligence.”

The PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover is available in a range of colours, allowing it to blend into the outdoor area, or it can be custom printed with photos and graphics for a unique 3D effect. 

Thermal pool covers or ‘bubble’ covers that lie directly on the water should never be considered as child safety pool covers as they do not bear weight. These covers heat the pool and save water by stopping evaporation but their purpose does not include child safety. 

“As part of our education in the community, we launched TopStep, the home of pool safety, an educational website with tips and advice on preventing drownings. Aside from covering the pool, every adult in the home needs to know what a drowning in progress actually looks like as TV has created wide misconceptions around this. There is no noise or splashing nor calls for help. Drowning is quick and silent. Visit to learn more about this.” 

Even if one doesn’t have children, it is still necessary to consider safety for visitors. Families living in residential complexes with a communal pool should insist that their body corporate install a safety pool cover. 

“The bottom line is that children need to be supervised around pools, and as long as the pool is covered by us and other layers of safety are in place, the likelihood of a tragedy occurring in your pool is greatly reduced.”

Learn about the PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover here or email

Practical tips for pool safety

  • Don’t let your pool’s water levels drop. Keeping the pool topped up allows for small arms to easily grab the edge if needed. 
  • For every two children in the pool, have one adult supervising. The more children, the more supervisors needed. Be aware that children’s pool parties are high risk events. 
  • For larger groups, give the designated supervisor a bright hat to wear so the children know who to call for help. 
  • Turn off fountains and water features. Not only do they waste water and power, they can cause ripples and splashing, making it harder to see when a child has encountered difficulty in the pool or has sunk to the bottom. 
  • Ensure that every adult in the home knows CPR, including domestic workers. Never hire a baby sitter or au pair who can’t swim.
  • Don’t let anyone who has been drinking or on sedative medication supervise children in a pool. 
  • Don’t leave toys in or near an open pool as children will be tempted to retrieve them.
  • Teach your child to swim fully clothed and with shoes on.
  • If your child develops a fear of water, don’t ignore this – a child who panics is at greater risk of drowning.
  • Never allow swimming after dark.
  • Discourage your dogs from swimming. Children and pets in a pool are not a good mix.
  • Never leave the pool without securing it with your PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover.
  • Never design / build a pool that cannot be secured for child safety. 

Drowning myths

Television has a lot to answer for when it comes to how drowning is portrayed and there are many myths out there. Be aware of the signs and remember that the appearance of a drowning can vary widely. 

Myth #1: Drowning children will shout for help

Drowning children are physiologically unable to call out. The respiratory system is designed for breathing – speech is the secondary function. Drowning children’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface but while their mouth is above the surface, they need to exhale and inhale before they sink again. There is not enough time to cry out. 

Myth #2: Drowning children wave their arms to attract attention or will thrash in the water

Drowning children cannot wave for help. A person who is drowning cannot perform voluntary movements such as waving or moving towards a rescuer. Envisage the surface of the water as a platform. Someone who is drowning often presses down on the surface and tries to use it as leverage to get their mouth above the water’s surface to breathe. So what the onlooker sees are arm movements that can appear to be playful swimming. Children will not kick wildly either. They remain upright in the water with no evidence of a supporting kick. They are quiet, focused only on breathing and show no signs of violent struggle. The child’s struggle is quick — 20 seconds, whereas an adult struggles for 60 seconds.

Myth #3: Drowning children are unsupervised children

50% of all child drownings will occur 25 metres or less from an adult who was distracted for only a few seconds. 

Myth #4: My child has had swimming lessons so he/ she won’t drown

No child is ever drown-proof, no matter how good their swimming skills. A few swimming lessons are no guarantee when it comes to drowning prevention. 

Myth #5: Water wings and flotation aids will prevent drowning

Water wings give a dangerous and false sense of security, often making children think they are stronger swimmers than they actually are. Flotation aids can also suddenly deflate.

Myth #6: My children are older and can swim so my pool is fine left uncovered

Children who drown are often short-term visitors to that property. It could be your neighbour’s child who comes over the wall to play, your domestic helper’s child who comes to your property during school holidays or visiting grandchildren and friends’ children – you will have children visiting who can’t swim and the pool needs to be secured for them too.  

What does a drowning in progress really look like?

Being able to identify a drowning in progress means you can react quicker and increase the chances of a full recovery. Familiarise yourself with these behaviours: 

– Head low in the water, mouth at water level 

– Head tilted back with mouth open

– Trying to roll over onto the back to float

– Hair falling over the forehead or eyes

– Body is vertical/ upright 

– Eyes glassy & empty, unable to focus

– Eyes open, with fear evident on the face

– Hyperventilating or gasping

– Trying to swim in one direction but without progress

Sometimes the most common indication that a child is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may look like they are treading water and just looking up at their surrounds. One way to be sure is to ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all, they are probably fine. If they give a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them and prevent a drowning occurring right before your eyes. 

Remember, children tend to make a noise in the water. If they’re quiet – get to them ASAP!


Most people imagine Picture A is an accurate depiction of a drowning in progress. In reality, Pictures B & C are more accurate – mouth at water level, head bobbing, body upright, little to no splashing and sometimes the appearance of doing doggie paddle.

To learn more about child drowning prevention and swimming pool safety, visit educational blog TopStep, the home of pool safety. Your best protection against drowning is to have a PowerPlastics Solid Safety Cover properly secured over the pool at all times. 

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