Sun and water safety

Ensure your family stays safe while enjoying the summer sun with these handy tips

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South Africans love sunshine – we get plenty of it, after all. In the heat of summer, families hit the beaches, pools and garden sprinklers in their numbers. It’s up to us to ensure our children are adequately protected from the cancer risks of the African sun and from the dangers of drowning.
Water safety
According to the Medical Research Council, drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in children under the age of five years old. The sea, rivers and dams are all potentially dangerous, but public and private swimming pools are the main danger hotspots.
Important things you should do to prevent tragedy
  • Make sure your children never swim alone and are always supervised by an adult.
  • Learn life-saving skills such as CPR that you can use in the event of an emergency. Ensure your children can swim properly, but know their limits. Cape Town-based swimming instructor Ross Johnston advises that children should start swimming lessons as early as they possibly can. “A child who starts swimming before his first birthday will be swimming on his own by three years old,” he says.
  • Make sure they only swim in safe areas.
The Childsafe campaign cautions homeowners with pools against relying on only one safety barrier as this can create a false sense of security. Studies in the US reveal that 70% of all pool drownings occur in fenced pools. To make your pool safer, use multiple layers of safety. Your pool fence should be SABS-approved and have a lockable, self-latching, spring-loaded gate. You should also have a well-fitted, good quality net that can hold your child above water over the entire surface of the pool. To really beef up safety, use a subsurface pool alarm that will alert you if your child enters the water without you noticing.
Sun safety
The best protection for children is shade, that’s why some dermatologists recommend that you never expose babies and toddlers up to three years old to long-term, direct sunlight. But as any parent knows, that’s about as easy as getting them to sit still long enough to apply any sunscreen at all. South Africa has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world, according to the Cancer Association.
When your family is out and about in the summer sun
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Use appropriate sunscreen. Dr Daynia Ballot, paediatric neonatologist and chairperson of the Wits Paediatric Fund, recommends we use sunscreen with an SPF factor between 15 and 30 for children. “Anything higher has certain chemical additives best avoided for young skins,” says Ballot.
  • Covering up with sunhats and UV-protective swimwear is also a good idea. “UV-protective clothing provides extra protection from the dangers of sun exposure and can also help ease a parent’s conscience if the hourly sunscreen reapplication is forgotten,” points out Ballot.
  • Try to avoid the strongest rays of the sun between 10am and 4pm.
Flying the flag
There are 57 Blue Flag beaches in South Africa. This international award is given to beaches that meet the standards for safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. So if you’re looking for a beach, opt for one with Blue Flag status. Visit

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