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New Australian Water Safety Strategy recognises impacts of non-fatal drowning

New Australian Water Safety Strategy recognises impacts of non-fatal drowning
April 28, 2016

The Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020 has recognised the impacts of non-fatal drownings, acknowledging that such incidents have lifelong impacts on people and families’ health, social and economic outcomes.

Released today, the Strategy continues the Australian Water Safety Council (AWSC)’s goal of reducing fatal drowning by 50% by the year 2020. It outlines priority areas in which Australian peak water safety bodies Royal Life Saving Society - Australia, Surf Life Saving and AUSTSWIM, AWSC Members and Federal, State/Territory and Local Governments must work together to prevent drowning.

Drowning data in the report shows that 3,116 lives were lost to drowning in the 11 years from 2004/05 to 2014/15, or an average of 283 deaths per year. Drowning impact is greatest in children under five, coastal and inland waterways, and those from Cultural Linguistically Diverse Communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

It also shows that alcohol and/or drugs is known to be a factor in 34% of drowning deaths and that males are four times more likely to drown than females.

In launching the Strategy, AWSC Convenor Justin Scarr stated  “strong progress is being made in reducing drowning risk, particularly among children, as well as increased emphasis on eliminating factors that contribute to drowning deaths in coastal locations and inland waterways.

“The new Strategy calls for an increased focus on men who drown at rates four time higher than women, often whilst under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.”

The Strategy identifies 11 goals across three priority areas where action is required in order to achieve a 50% reduction in drowning by the year 2020.

Success has been seen in the reduction of fatal drowning among children under five, development of drowning prevention plans targeting known drowning blackspots in coastal and inland waterways, and in focusing attention on the reduction of drowning, with all water safety organisations and most State/Territory Governments aligning actions to the Strategy.

In respect of near fatal drownings, Scarr stated “recent studies in children 0-19 years show that for every one drowning death, a further nine children are hospitalised as a result of a drowning event and survive, often with lifelong consequences.”

Support from the Australian Government is invaluable in the efforts to prevent drowning across Australia. This support is critical in achieving many elements including, the conduct of research, the delivery of programs and services through to the implementation of initiatives aimed at increasing awareness and skills to both the general community and those at risk. Lifeguard, lifesaving and other water safety services and programs all contribute to the saving of lives and reduction in drowning through active service delivery as well as training and education.

Launching the Strategy at the Coffs Harbour Surf Life Saving Club, Federal Minister for Health, Aged Care and Sport Sussan Ley stated “we are lucky to have access to some of the world’s most beautiful waterways and beaches here in Australia. But sadly, around 300 people lose their lives to drowning each year.

“We must continue efforts to promote and improve water safety, and do all we can to educate Australians – as well as our overseas visitors – about the risks involved.”

“We are absolutely committed to achieving the Australian Water Safety Council’s target of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020.

“That’s why we are working with Australia’s key water safety agencies to identify the priority areas we need to address to reducing drowning,” Ms Ley said.

Drowning as a result of alcohol and drugs is a major concern. An average of 94 drowning deaths every year are known to involve alcohol and/or drugs, with 46% of these occurring in rivers, creeks and streams. The AWSC is calling for a coordinated approach and consistent messaging to highlight the risks of consuming alcohol during or prior to aquatic activity, including partnering with boating and fishing groups.

An average of 30 children aged 0-4 years drown every year, with 78% of deaths occurring following a fall into water. The AWSC is calling for the strengthening of child drowning prevention programs that reinforce the importance of supervision, pool fencing, water familiarisation and CPR education.

The Strategy calls on local and state/territory governments to strengthen compliance and enforcement of four sided pool fencing.

The AWSC reports that an average of 108 people drown in coastal waters (beaches, oceans, harbours and coastal rocks) every year, with males accounting for 87% of those deaths.

Scarr added “the AWSC is recommending the implementation of coastal safety campaigns and programs to address the root causes of drowning, targeted towards high risk populations, as well as expansion of the coastal black spot identification program.”

The AWSC reports an average of 105 people drown in inland waterways (rivers, creeks, streams, lakes, dams and lagoons) every year, with males accounting for 82% of these deaths.

Scarr concluded “the AWSC is recommending the expansion of community focused drowning prevention plans in known inland waterway drowning blackspots,” Mr Scarr said.

The Australian Water Safety Council was formed in 1998, and provides a forum for collaboration among peak water safety organisations, conducts annual conferences, workshops and symposiums, and develops, monitors, evaluates progress of the Australian Water Safety Strategy.

For more information on the Australian Water Safety Council and to download a copy of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020, visit






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