Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016 to 2020

28 April 2016

The Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020 has been launched today by the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, Minister for Health, Aged Care and Sport in conjunction with the Australian Water Safety Council (AWSC).

The Strategy continues the AWSC’s goal of reducing fatal drowning by 50% by the year 2020, and outlines priority areas in which Australia's peak water safety bodies Royal Life Saving, Surf Life Saving and AUSTSWIM, along with 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 across Australia in the eleven years from 2004/05 to 2014/15, or an average of 283 deaths per year. 

Here in WA over the same period 371 people lost their lives to drowning, or an average of 34 per year.

Across the nation the impact of drowning is greatest the following areas:

  • children under five,
  • coastal and inland waterways, and
  • those from Cultural Linguistically Diverse Communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

In launching the Strategy, Royal Life Saving Society Australia CEO Justin Scarr said “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 times higher than women, often whilst under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.

Support from the Australian Government is invaluable in the efforts to prevent drowning across Australia. This support is critical in achieving many elements including, conducting research and delivering programs and services aimed at increasing awareness and skills in 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.

"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,” the Minister for Health, Aged Care and Sport the Hon. Sussan Ley MP said.

"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."

Other key statistics showed that alcohol and/or drugs are a known factor in 34% of drowning deaths across the nation, while males are four times more likely to drown than females.

Royal Life Saving Society WA is focused on reducing alcohol related drowning deaths through our Don't Drink and Drown program, which was introduced in 2004 to educate young people aged 15-24 about the potential impact of drinking alcohol while in, on or around water. The campaign has been successful with alcohol a contributing factor in 16% of drowning incidents in WA between 2004/5 - 2014/15, compared to the national average of 34%.

The Strategy recognises that drowning is often non-fatal, with many people and families impacted by drowning incidents that leave lifelong impacts on a person’s health, social and economic outcomes. Royal Life Saving Society WA is working hard to support those impacted by non-fatal drowning incidents through our Keep Watch Community Help Grants.

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.

“Evidence shows that drowning in children can be significantly reduced by four sided pool fencing, effective inspection and compliance programs coupled with education programs that promote effective adult supervision,” Mr Scarr said.

Royal Life Saving Society WA is committed to reducing toddler drowning in our state through our Keep Watch program. In the 10 years from 2003-2013 40 children under five years of age lost their life as a result of drowning, the highest rate of any age group in the state. However, over the decade there was a 22% decrease in deaths which shows WA is almost halfway to the AWSC target of reducing drowning deaths by 50% in this age group."

Last financial year 3138 parents and children attended free workshops to learn vital water safety messages, while almost 21000 children participated in Infant Aquatics swimming and water safety lessons. Participation in these programs by parents and children is a vital part of our strategy to reduce the number of families impacted by toddler drowning in WA.

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 and evaluates progress of the Australian Water Safety Strategy.

You can download a copy of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020 below.