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Latest drowning figures make ‘bleak reading’

Latest drowning figures make ‘bleak reading’
September 20, 2012

The latest Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) drowning figures show 284 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012 – a reduction of just 1% on the five year average.

The findings have led RLSSA Chief Executive Rob Bradley to suggest that Australia's current systems to reduce drownings are failing and that water safety education messages have fallen on deaf ears, Bradley stating that the figures are "incredibly disappointing" and make "bleak reading".

Explaining the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012, released this morning by Federal State Sport Minister Senator Kate Lundy at Parliament House Canberra, Bradley added "it's as if much of the education and awareness has simply fallen on deaf ears.

"Overall there has been absolutely no improvement in drowning in most age groups for five years now. In some age groups the drowning toll is still rising. Public awareness of the dangers of water still appears to be very low. The number of drowning deaths in inland waterways is up 13% on the 5 year average.

"It's clear that more work needs to be done in reducing drowning in Australia."

In launching the report Senator Lundy stated "the facts and figures in the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 serve as a reminder that we need to look out for each other and make responsible decisions about our own personal safety in and around water."

The report shows that the biggest single age bracket for drowning deaths is now people aged 55 plus and that the highest number of drowning deaths happened in inland waterways – accounting for 37% of the deaths (104).

The number of children under five drowning in bathtubs has jumped by 75% on the five year average while a third of the 21 deaths in this age group occurred in bathtubs or spa baths (seven deaths).

The number of males drowning is happening at a phenomenal rate – 82% of the drownings were males with 98 men aged 18-44 drowned last year.

Here, Bradley believes that it is highly likely many of the people in this age group missed out on an adequate water safety education during their younger years, which is beginning to lead to a feared explosion in drowning deaths, stating "we've already sadly warned about this. The reality is the feared explosion in drowning deaths in this age range now appears to be underway."

Bradley says men clearly continue to put themselves at risk by frequently ignoring warnings and putting themselves in dangerous situations. He says greater awareness about water safety issues among men is desperately needed.

Bradley also stated "there are just too few resources being devoted to stop drowning deaths in inland waterways. The overall drowning toll is unacceptable. We want to see the number of people drowning halved by the year 2020. With these sorts of figures it is hard to see that happening."

Swimming pools continue to account for the largest number of drowning deaths in children aged 0-four years, with eight (38%) drowning deaths in 2011/12.

Speaking about this category, Bradley said, "it's certainly positive to see that there's been a reduction in drowning deaths in this category from the five year average of 32 to 21 this year. We hope that trend continues. In this age group we are on track to achieve a 50% reduction by 2020 if parents and carers of young children remain vigilant and employ strategies such as active supervision.

"However the number of bathtub drowning deaths is alarming and more work is needed in this area.

"The decline in drowning deaths of children aged under five over the past 4 years can be partially attributed to increased parental awareness of the importance of child supervision, restricting a child's access to water, the role of water awareness and learning CPR. However, backyard swimming pools have been the real focus of recent prevention efforts."

The increase in drowning deaths in people aged 15-24 years is concerning, with 45 people losing their lives in 2011/12. This is an increase of 25% on the five year average. Inland waterways again have the highest number of drowning deaths within this age group and males account for 82% of these cases.

Increased drowning in people aged 15-24 years is an area of grave concern, prompting the Australian Water Safety Council to prioritise programs to increase swimming and lifesaving skills in Australian youth, as well as calling for a focus on preventing risk taking behaviours including the consumption of alcohol while boating, fishing and swimming.

Drowning continues at elevated levels throughout adulthood, pointing to the importance of building swimming and water safety skills during the primary and secondary school years to protect children and adults against drowning in later years.

In conclusion, Bradley stated "Royal Life Saving will continue to call for compulsory swimming and water safety education in the Australian school curriculum, as the Australian tradition of learning these lifesaving skills at school is under threat and we all know how important they are in preventing drowning."

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 aims to dispel some misconceptions about drowning in Australia.

Few realise that more drowning deaths occur in rivers and lakes than at the beach, 60% of drowning deaths occur outside of major cities, smaller states such as the Northern Territory and Tasmania experience a greater burden of drowning, and that parents can rely on the school system to teach their children to swim, but this is no longer the case.

Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 – Key findings

• 284 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1st July 2011 & 30th June 2012

• 232 (82%) males and 52 (18%) females drowned

• 21 (7%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years

• 45 (16%) drowning deaths occurred in young people aged 15 to 24 years

• 97 (34%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 55 years and over

• 75 (26%) drowning deaths occurred in river / creek / stream locations

• 55 (19%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches

Drownings by state:

• New South Wales – 105 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Queensland – 75 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Victoria – 37 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Western Australia – 29 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• South Australia – 14 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Tasmania – 13 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Northern Territory – 10 drowning deaths between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

• Australian Capital Territory – one drowning death between 1st July 2011 and 30th June 2012.

Click here for more information.



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