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Study recommends need to improve beach safety signage

Study recommends need to improve beach safety signage
November 25, 2022

University of Adelaide researcher Dr Masaki Shibata’s study examined how current safety signage on beaches is interpreted by overseas-born beachgoers and by Australian citizens.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Shibata advised “according to the National Coastal Safety Report 2022, 939 coastal drowning fatalities were recorded from 2012-2022, almost half of which were overseas-born beach-goers.”

“However, the 939 fatalities were only of people whose birth continent was known, so the total number of drownings is higher.”

Dr Shibata said signage could be improved by including messages in the languages of the people who are at most risk of coastal drowning, photos of dangers such as jellyfish to improve messaging for non-English speakers, clear explanations of hazards and clearer colour coding.

As part of the research, Dr Shibata gathered information from 160 interviews with beachgoers on how they interpreted signage at Bondi Beach, with about 50 per cent of those born overseas and about 40% of Australians rarely or never reading beach safety signage at beaches they are not familiar with.

He noted “approximately half of the overseas-born beach-goers had no understanding of some beach safety terms such as high surf, shore dump, or bluebottle.

“Not reading the signs, or not understanding them, could have deadly consequences.”

According to the study, many people were also unsure about what the Australian beach flags meant.

Dr Shibata went on to say “while they represent ‘always swim between the flags’, more than 30% of the overseas visitors and residents believe that beach flags mean that only people ‘perceived to be good swimmers’ were allowed to be between the flags.

“Another common flag instruction - ‘No flags = no swim’ - is also confusing, with half of all respondents interpreting this as they may not swim, but they may play, walk, and stand in the water.”

Image credit: University of Adelaide.

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