National Drowning Report 2017

12 September 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. This is a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths in 2015/16. 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.

There were 42 drowning deaths in Western Australia in 2016/17, which is an 11% increase on the previous year. The highest number of deaths occurred in people aged 25‐54 years (52%). Just over one quarter (28%) of all drowning deaths in our state occurred in inland waterways such as rivers, creeks, lakes and dams. Almost one quarter of all deaths (24%) took place while swimming and recreating.

Royal Life Saving's Lauren Nimmo with Minister Mick MurrayLauren Nimmo, Senior Manager Health Promotion & Research, Royal Life Saving Society WA says “West Australians love the water. It’s an important part of our culture. 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.”

Hon. Mick Murray MLA – Minister for Seniors and Ageing; Volunteering; Sport and Recreation is a strong advocate for increased participation in aquatic activity and sport amongst all community members, particularly children. “It’s worrying that despite our best intentions and programs there has been an 11% increase in drowning deaths over the past year. It is a sad and sobering statistic, and shows that we all have more work to do in improving safety around water. Sadly, many drownings occur due to people overestimating their abilities in the water. We should all remember that water can be very unpredictable and even more unforgiving.”

“The State Government has been a long‐time supporter of the Royal Life Saving Society WA’s water safety programs and I urge everyone to make use of those resources, for their children and themselves” Minister Murray says.

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. In Western Australia, there was a 23% increase in the number of deaths occurring at inland waterways compared to the previous year with the majority occurring at rivers, creeks and streams in regional and remote areas of the state.

The report also highlights that people were almost four times more likely to drown in regional and remote areas of Western Australia than in the Perth metropolitan area. Royal Life Saving WA's Lauren Nimmo says “the fact that people in regional and remote areas of our state are at such high risk of drowning is concerning. These areas are often remote with limited access and mobile phone coverage resulting in delayed emergency response. It highlights the need for improved access to appropriate swimming and water safety programs to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to participate safely in the unique aquatic environments that exist in these areas.”

Nationally, drowning in children under five increased last year. Tragically 29 children aged 0‐4 years drowned in 2016/17, a 38% increase on the previous year. “In Western Australia there was a decrease in the number of toddlers under the age of five years who drowned, however the National statistics highlight the importance of not becoming complacent. 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,” says Ms Nimmo.

The report found there were 12 drowning deaths in children aged 5‐14 years. According to Ms Nimmo “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 Governments, local councils, schools and parents all play their part.”

Reducing drowning in adults also continues to pose a challenge to water safety organisations. The 25‐34 year age group accounted for the highest number of drowning deaths (43 deaths), followed by people aged 45‐54 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.

Drowning peaks during the summer months. “Last summer was shocking, with 10 people drowning in Western Australia over the Christmas, New Year and Australia Day period. This is a busy time of year with many distractions and celebrations often involving alcohol and people need to be aware of the increased risk of drowning at this time." says Ms Nimmo.

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 6 international students. Ms Nimmo says “Reducing drowning in these high risk populations requires an integrated approach, working with universities, local tour operators, national parks and lifeguard services.”

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. “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%” says Ms Nimmo.

To download the full National Drowning Report for 2016/17 please click the link below.

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