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Small increase in Australia’s annual drowning numbers

September 12, 2017

The newly released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows 291 people died as a result of drowning in Australia in the 2016/17 financial year, a 3% increase on the 2015/16 drowning toll of 282 drownings.

Released this morning by Federal Minister for Health and Minister for Sport Greg Hunt, the 2017 Report is the first to examine the impact of both fatal and non-fatal drowning. Royal Life Saving estimates that there were an additional 685 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation in 2016/17. Many of these people will require long term medical assistance.

The nation’s inland waterways continue to be the leading location for fatal drowning, accounting for 97 deaths in 2016/17, almost one third of the total. This included 68 at rivers and creeks, and 29 at lakes and dams.

Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Justin Scarr explains “Australians love the water ... it’s an important part of our culture (but) the sad fact that 291 people drowned last year is a sobering reminder to always actively supervise children around water, for people young and old to learn to swim and survive, to increase lifejacket use, reduce alcohol consumption around water and to always Respect the River.”

Drowning in children under five increased last year. Tragically 29 children aged below four years drowned in 2016/17, a 38% increase on the previous year, serving as a sobering reminder to parents and pool owners of the need to constantly Keep Watch around water.

Commenting on this sad statistic, Scarr advised “kids and families love pools, but they can pose a significant drowning risk to toddlers. Royal Life Saving urges pool owners to actively supervise young children around water and check that the pool fence and gate is in good working order.”

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows that Australian’s under estimate the dangers of the nation’s waterways, with drowning deaths occurring in inland waterways, along the coast and in swimming pools. Rivers were the leading location for fatal drowning with 68 drowning deaths, followed by beaches (50 deaths), ocean / harbour locations (46 deaths) and swimming pools (44 deaths).

Reducing drowning in adults continues to pose a challenge to water safety organisations. The 25 to 34 year age group accounted for the highest number of drowning deaths (43 deaths), followed by people aged 45 to 54 years (40 deaths). Royal Life Savings highlights the importance of safe aquatic behaviors including lifejacket use, reducing alcohol and drug consumption, checking weather forecasts and never swimming or boating alone.

In a result that will surprise many, 36 people aged 75 years and over died in drowning incidents last year, a 38% increase on the 10 year average.

This figure led Scarr to comment “Royal Life Saving highlights the need for all senior Australians to be aware of the increased drowning risk associated with pre-existing medical conditions, the impacts of medications and the dangers of swimming alone.”

The report found there were 12 drowning deaths in children aged five to 14 years, with Scarr adding “drowning in school aged children is the lowest of any age group, but no less tragic. Though many Australian children swim well, we still find too many kids can’t swim at all and have limited water safety knowledge. It’s important that State and Territory Governments, local councils, schools and parents all play their part.”

Explaining that drowning peaks during the summer months, Scarr advised “last summer was shocking, with drowning deaths in New South Wales four times higher than the average between Christmas and New Year.

“Analysis highlights the risks of swimming in unpatrolled locations, risk taking by young men, and the need for water safety awareness among high risk populations.”

Drowning in overseas tourists often captures much media attention. Last year there were 20 overseas tourists who drowned, predominately from European (45%) and Asian (40%) countries, as well as six international students.

In 2008 the Australian Water Safety Council set an ambitious goal of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020. Interim analysis shows an overall 24% reduction in fatal drowning despite significant changes in the size and makeup of the Australian population.

Scarr concluded “reducing drowning by 24% is a significant achievement and means there are 90 people here today who otherwise would have drowned last year. The most pleasing progress has been in reducing drowning in children aged 0-14 years by 36%.”

Key drowning facts
• 291 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1st July 2016 and 30th June 2017
• This is a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths recorded in 2015/16
• 74% of all drowning deaths were male
• 29 (10%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years 
• 12 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years
• 43 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 25-34 years
• 70 (24%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 65 years and over 
• 68 (23%) drowning deaths occurred at rivers, creeks and streams
• 50 (17%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches
• 46 (16%) drowning deaths occurred in ocean / harbour locations
• 73 (25%) people were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning
• 46 (16%) people drowned as a result of a fall into water
• 37 (13%) people were boating immediately prior to drowning

State and Territory breakdown
• 93 (32%) drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales
• 73 (25%) drowning deaths occurred in Queensland
• 45 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in Victoria
• 42 (14%) drowning deaths occurred in Western Australia
• 15 (5%) drowning deaths occurred in South Australia
• 11 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in Tasmania
• 8 (3%) drowning deaths occurred in Northern Territory
• 4 (1%) drowning deaths occurred in 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 2017 please visit the Royal Life Saving website at www.royallifesaving.com.au 

Images: Federal Minister for Health and Minister for Sport Greg Hunt launching the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 (top) and Royal Life Savings 'Respect the River' campaign (below).

11th September 2017 - ACT AQUATIC INDUSTRY AWARDS RECOGNISE ACHIEVEMENTS OF INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANISATIONS 

10th September 2017 - NOMINATIONS INVITED FOR ROYAL LIFE SAVING SOCIETY - AUSTRALIA BOARD POSITIONS

30th June 2017 - ROYAL LIFE SAVING REPORT REVEALS NON-FATAL DROWNING INCIDENTS ARE ON THE RISE

21st April 2017 - ROYAL LIFE SAVING LAUNCHES NATIONAL AQUATIC INDUSTRY SAFETY AWARDS

15th September 2016 - NEW REPORT SHOWS NO IMPROVEMENT IN ANNUAL DROWNING FIGURES

28th April 2016 - NEW AUSTRALIAN WATER SAFETY STRATEGY RECOGNISES IMPACTS OF NON-FATAL DROWNING

28th January 2016 - LIFE SAVING LEADERS RECOGNISED BY AUSTRALIA DAY HONOURS

10th December 2015 - NEW REPORT SHOWS TODDLERS STILL HAVE HIGHEST DROWNING RISK 

16th September 2015 - DROWNINGS HIGHLIGHT NEED TO TAKE MORE CARE AROUND WATER

14th May 2014 - 10-YEAR REVIEW IDENTIFIES DROWNING DANGERS OF INLAND WATERWAYS 

 

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