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Drownings highlight need to take more care around water

Drownings highlight need to take more care around water
September 16, 2015

Federal Minister for Health and Sport Sussan Ley has urged all Australians to take care around waterways following an increase in the number of drownings over the past year.

The just launched National Drowning Report shows that in 2014/15 271 people drowned, the second lowest number of drowning deaths in the past 13 years and 17 fewer deaths than the 10 year average.

However, the figures showed a 2% rise (five deaths) on the 266 lives lost the previous year.

Minister Ley commented on the “mixed results” in the new drowning statistics, welcoming the lowest ever recorded number of drowning for children aged five to 14 and no drowning fatalities in children between the ages of 10 and 17 but expressing disappointment at a 26% increase on the 10 year average for drowning among 45 to 55 year olds and an alarming 30% increase in drowning deaths for children under the age of four years.

The Report showed that almost one in every 10 drowning deaths in Australia was a child under the age of four years, with 26 deaths in this age group, compared to 20 in the previous year. Over half (54%) happened in swimming pools. 

21st National Drowning Report to be released by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia also shows that a third of all drowning deaths (33%) are now people aged 55 and over. 

Minister Ley stated “any preventable death is both devastating and unacceptable and I urge all Australians to take greater care around the water to prevent any further unnecessary deaths “I know the devastation on communities these tragic deaths have with eight lives lost on the Murray River last year, which flows through the heart of my electorate. 

“The reduction in drowning numbers over the past two years certainly shows we’re moving in the right direction but we can’t become complacent and I urge every Australian to remain vigilant about water safety.

“To see an increase of 26% in the number of middle aged people, particularly men, who have died unnecessarily, is just not good enough. These men need to be more careful and sensible around the water.

“The Government is committed to promoting water safety activities and educating Australians about the risks associated with our coastlines and inland waterways.

“But we all have a responsibility to take better care of ourselves and parents of their young children to prevent any further unnecessary deaths.

“These mixed figures reiterate the need to continue to educate parents and children about the risks of the water and promote active supervision.”

Adding his concern, Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Justin Scarr explained “each and every case in this report represents a very personal story that will have caused great sorrow for families, friends and communities.” 

 “The large increase in drowning in children under the age of five is alarming. 

“Active adult supervision and restricting access to water, through properly installed and correctly maintained pool fences, are key strategies to reduce these tragic child drowning incidents.” 

Drowning locations 
Inland waterways continue to claim the largest number of lives, with 99 drowning deaths recorded in rivers, creeks, lakes and dams in 2014/15. Beaches claimed the second largest number of deaths (54), followed by Ocean / Harbour locations (36 drowning deaths). 

Here Scarr added “the high number of people drowning in rivers, lakes and dams continues to be a concern. 

“In response to this issue, Royal Life Saving, with Australian Government support is implementing programs across the nation’s top 10 river drowning blackspots, including the Murray River, which has again experienced a significant number of drowning deaths over the past year.”

Worrying Trends
The Royal Life Saving Drowning Report for 2015 identifies several emerging trends including an increase in the number of females drowning. Although men drown at a rate that is four times that of women, the number of females drowning, particularly in the 45-54 years age group, has increased for the second year in a row. 

The report found an alarming 30% increase in the drowning fatalities in children under the age of five. 

Commenting on this, Scarr stated “Supervision is a key factor, and often it is either intermittent or absent altogether.

“Home swimming pools continue to be the leading location for drowning in young children. This is an alarming sign and we urge people to remember the four key actions of the Keep Watch program; Supervise, Restrict Access to Water, Water Awareness and Resuscitation.” 

Encouraging signs in youth
The report recorded no known drowning fatalities in children between the ages of 10 and 17 years, compared to the 10 year average of 12 drowning deaths. 

Although positive, Royal Life Saving continues to highlight the importance of learning swimming and water safety skills during the school years. 

Scarr explained “zero known fatalities in children aged 10 to 17 years this year is pleasing but Royal Life Saving urges parents not to underestimate the ongoing drowning risk posed to children. 

“Basic swimming and water safety skills and knowledge are vital given the Australian environment, and remain a key factor in preventing drowning throughout adulthood.”

Drugs and alcohol
Royal Life Saving warns of the increase in drowning risk when combining aquatic activities with the use of alcohol or illicit drugs. Where alcohol was known to have been consumed prior to drowning, one quarter of those victims recorded a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading that was four times the legal limit (0.2mg/L) or higher. 

Over one in 10 people who drowned had alcohol in their blood stream at the time of drowning (38). Just over two-thirds (67%) of the 45 to 54 year olds who had consumed alcohol prior to drowning had a Blood Alcohol Content four times the legal limit or higher. Methamphetamine has also overtaken cannabis as the most common illicit drug being used prior to drowning. 

Overall, only one third of all drowning deaths occurred in summer with 41% of all drowning deaths happening between midday and 6pm.

The Australian Government commits approximately $11 million a year to water safety initiatives including a $15 million election commitment over five years for our Water Safety: Reduce Drownings program. 

Key Drowning Facts at a Glance

• 271 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1st July 2014 and 30th June 2015
• This is an increase of 5 deaths (or 2%) on the 266 deaths recorded in 2013/14
• This is a reduction of 6% on the 10 year average of 288 drowning deaths 
• 80% of all drowning deaths were male
• 10% (26 deaths) of all drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years
• Nine (3%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged five to 14 years
• 23 (9%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 15 to 24 years
• 89 (33%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 55 years and over
• 99 drowning deaths (37%) occurred in inland waterways (rivers, creeks, streams, lakes, dams and lagoons)
• 55 (20%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches
• 36 (13%) drowning deaths occurred at ocean / harbour locations
• 63 people (23%) were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning
• 53 people (20%) drowned as a result of accidents involving watercraft
• 43 people (16%) drowned as a result of falls into water

State and Territory Breakdown 

• 100 (37%) drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales
• 62 (23%) drowning deaths occurred in Queensland 
• 39 (14%) drowning deaths occurred in Victoria
• 39 (14%) drowning deaths occurred in Western Australia 
• 17 (6%) drowning deaths occurred in South Australia
• Nine (3%) drowning deaths occurred in Tasmania 
• Four (1%) drowning deaths occurred in the Northern Territory (NT)
•  One drowning death in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2015 please visit the Royal Life Saving website







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