Children and men most at risk of drowning

Stay alert while on holiday and keep an eye on the vulnerable

Thursday, December 10 2015

Men and children are most at risk of drowning, according to statistics accumulated by the Netcare Medibank database during the past five years. *

As we head into the festive season, and to beaches, pools, and dams, we should remember to take precautions, stay alert and keep a close eye on those who are most at risk in the water.

Between 2011 and November 2015, children accounted for 63% of all near-drowning cases admitted to Netcare hospitals countrywide. The statistics furthermore revealed that men are most at risk of drowning, with 61% of patients attended to being male.

Netcare hospitals admitted a total of 613 patients involved in near-drowning incidents since 2011. Of these patients, 94% survived without sustaining permanent consequences.

Over the five-year period, more than half of all incidents took place in Gauteng, and a third in KwaZulu-Natal. The Western Cape was a distant third, reflecting six percent of all incidents.

“Our statistics reveal that the greatest percentage of all drowning incidents throughout the year occur during summer. This is largely attributable to people spending more time outdoors and around pools during the warmer months, as well as the high volumes of tourists, both foreign and local, who flock to the beaches during school holidays, particularly over the festive season,” notes Mande Toubkin, Netcare Group General Manager: Emergency, Trauma, Transplant and Corporate Social Investment.

The figures for the five-year period show that swimming pools are the most dangerous. Eight percent of all deaths occurred while the victim was in the pool, and 71% because the victim fell in.

Six percent of all the deaths happened in the bath, half of those because the victim fell in.

“For those with swimming pools, having several layers of safety such as a safety net, a fence with a lockable gate, a surface alarm, and a child-minder, can prevent accidents,” says Toubkin.

Some tips to keep in mind while on the beach:

  • Swim where lifeguards are on duty and keep to the areas demarcated for safe swimming.
  • Be mindful of warning signs that may indicate dangerous swimming conditions such as strong currents, sharks, or contaminated water.
  • Remember that swimming in the ocean is very different to swimming in a pool.
  • Steer clear of the ocean if you notice a choppy current with murky water.
  • Do not dive into water where you cannot see the bottom, as you could easily injure your neck.
  • Check the weather report before going to the beach. Be careful of lightning and do not enter the water until at least 30 minutes after the thunder and lightning have stopped.
  • If you get pulled out to sea, stay calm and save your energy. Allow the current to carry you and then swim parallel to the shore until you are out of it. If you cannot swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are out of the rip current.
  • Do not be ashamed to call for help if you are in trouble. Anyone, even the best swimmers, can run into difficulties. Signal for a lifeguard as soon as possible. In the interim, stay calm and try to tread water, or if possible float on your back, until they reach you.
  • Stay sober at the beach, as alcohol will impair your judgement, making you less careful. Alcohol also dehydrates you.
  • Use sunscreen, wear a hat, use an umbrella or a tent for shade and cover yourself up during the hottest time of day, which is generally between 10h00 and 16h00.
  • Do not make use of floatation devices such as an inflatable bed, noodle and other items, unless you can swim properly, and do not rely on them to keep you afloat.
  • If you go boating ensure the boat is seaworthy and that you are wearing a lifejacket. Don’t go out to sea unless you have checked the weather conditions.

What to do in an emergency

In an emergency, the first priority is to get the victim out of the water. Make sure it is safe to enter the water. Do not become a victim yourself. If the victim is struggling, give him or her something to hold on to, such as a branch or a floatation device. Remember that someone who is panicking can drag the person trying to help into danger too.

Handle the victim with care to avoid aggravating a potential neck or back injury. Many people are injured while diving head first into water without having checked the depth of the water.

If you are with other people, have someone call emergency medical services for help. Memorise the number of emergency medical services in your area, save it on your cell phone and keep it written down next to your landline telephone. You can contact Netcare 911 on 082 911 from anywhere in the country. However, give the dispatcher an accurate location of the scene as well as a contact number. Do not hang up.

Remember that knowing CPR can save a life

“A basic course in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can make a dramatic difference in an emergency, if it is done correctly and timeously,” says Toubkin.

*Please note that these statistics are for cases attended to at Netcare only and may differ from national statistics on all cases of near-drowning and drowning.


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Devereaux Morkel
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]