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10-year review identifies drowning dangers of inland waterways
New research from the Royal Life Saving Society - Australia shows that inland waterways continue to claim the lives of more Australians each year than beaches or swimming pools.
An average 35 people a year drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams across 10 years from 2002 to 2012, more than at any other aquatic location over the same period.
The figures include people who fell from boats and watercraft, people who were swept away by floodwater and those who got into trouble while swimming with identified blackspots include popular swimming and recreation waterways such as the Murray, Hawkesbury, Murrumbidgee and Yarra Rivers.
The figures include people who fell from boats and watercraft, people who were swept away by floodwater and those who got into trouble while swimming.
The Royal Life Saving Society - Australia study also showed that the involvement of alcohol is a major concern in river drowning fatalities with alcohol involved in 37% of all river drowning deaths. Almost half (49%) of all drowning deaths of people aged 45-54 years were known to involve alcohol. 13% of all drowning victims recorded a blood alcohol content of 0.2 or greater, four times the legal limit.
Commenting on the findings, Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Justin Scarr stated “the flat, still appearance of rivers often lull people into a false sense of safety. Time and again we see people taking unnecessary risks that often have tragic outcomes, especially where alcohol is involved.”
The research identified the top 10 river drowning black spots across the country. The Murray River was identified as the number one river drowning black spot in the country with 43 deaths, followed by the Brisbane River in Queensland and the Yarra River in Victoria.
Across the decade analysed, men accounted for 80% of all drowning deaths in rivers, creeks and streams around the country. Men aged 20 to 29 years recorded the highest number of drowning deaths of any age group.
Drowning in rivers is largely a local issue, with almost three quarters (74%) of people who drowned in rivers doing so within 100 kilometres of their home postcode. Seventeen percent of all river drowning deaths took place in remote or very remote parts of Australia.
Scarr added “this research is alarming and highlights what Royal Life Saving has continually found in annual National Drowning Reports, that rivers account for more drownings than beaches or swimming pools. It’s high time that people treated rivers with the same respect they have learned to show when recreating at the beach.
“What is extremely concerning to Royal Life Saving is the amount of alcohol being consumed when people are recreating, and drowning, in Australia’s rivers. We’re not talking about a quiet drink or two. In over half of all cases where alcohol was recorded, the blood alcohol content of the victims was equal to or over 0.05.”
In August 2013, Royal Life Saving welcomed the then Opposition’s election commitment to reducing drowning in inland waterways and promoting access to swimming and water safety in disadvantaged communities. Over the next four year the Society will be working across the country to implement drowning prevention interventions targeting known river drowning black spots and educating the community on risk reduction strategies when recreating in such aquatic locations.
Falls account for 20% of all river drowning deaths. This was followed by incidents involving non-aquatic transport (18%), such as cars and swimming and recreating (15%) and accidents involving watercraft (14%). In 18% of all cases, the activity immediately prior to drowning was unknown indicating that many victims are undertaking aquatic activity alone in rivers, creeks and streams.
17% of all river drowning deaths took place in remote or very remote areas of Australia. These locations are isolated and often some distance from timely medical assistance.
Here Scarr added “Royal Life Saving urges all Australians to learn resuscitation, however it’s even more important to know CPR and basic rescue skills in cases of drowning emergencies in isolated locations.”
Royal Life Saving River Research Key Findings
• 735 people have drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams between 1st July 2002 and 30th June 2012
• Men account for 80% of all drowning deaths in rivers across the decade
• New South Wales recorded the highest number of drowning deaths with 246 drowning deaths, followed by Queensland with 219 and Victoria with 98 river drowning deaths
• Falls into water accounted for 20% of river drowning deaths, followed by accidents involving non-aquatic transport (18%), swimming and recreating (15%) and accidents involving watercraft (14%). Activity was unknown in 18% of river drowning deaths.
• 17% of all river drowning deaths took place in remote or very remote areas of Australia
• 17% of all river drowning deaths were known to be flood related.
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders drown in rivers at a rate that is 4.5 times that of the non-Indigenous population.
Royal Life Saving Top 10 River Drowning Black Spots
1. Murray River
2. Brisbane River (QLD)
3. Yarra River (VIC)
4. Swan River (WA)
5. Hawkesbury River (NSW)
6. Murrumbidgee River (NSW)
7. Sandy Creek (QLD)
8. Derwent River (TAS)
9. Katherine River (NT)
10. Macquarie River (NSW)
Royal Life Saving’s River Drowning Prevention Tips
• Never swim alone.
• Never undertake any form of aquatic activity under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Be aware of hazards specific to rivers and creeks such as sudden pockets of deep water, cold water, an uneven river bed, steep and often unstable river banks.
• In rivers and creeks, strong currents and submerged objects that are often difficult to see due to the murky water.
• When boating, always wear a lifejacket, check weather conditions before setting off and tell someone where you are going and when you are due back.
• Always actively supervise children around water.
For more information on water safety and drowning prevention strategies, or to access a full copy of the report can visit www.royallifesaving.com.au.
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