Statistics reveal a significant reduction in drowning across Australia

26 May 2021

Royal Life Saving WA is pleased to see that drowning rates across Australia have decreased significantly over the past 12 years. Back in 2008 the Australian Water Safety Council put together the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2008-2020, with an aspirational target of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020.

While drowning figures have not reached this target, unintentional drowning deaths in Australia have reduced by 28% since 2008. Here in Western Australia drowning has decreased by 21%. The Australian Water Safety Strategy has clearly played an important role in saving lives.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO, Justin Scarr said even though the reductions were short of the 50% reduction target, they were significant. “While this study indicates that support in the form of funding, legislative change and public education may have contributed to significant reductions in drowning over the period, most notably in the reduction of drowning among young children, there is more to be done,” Mr Scarr said.

In Western Australia the most notable reductions have followed national trends, with a 54% reduction in the 0-4 years age group, a 64% reduction for 5-9s and 76% for children aged 10-14. This can largely be attributed to our state’s strong pool fencing legislation, parental engagement with our annual Keep Watch toddler drowning prevention campaign and continued government and industry support for our child drowning prevention programs.

The especially significant reduction in drowning rates for school aged children is particularly pleasing and reflects the strong partnership Royal Life Saving WA has developed with the Education Department to ensure children across the state, even in the most remote communities, are able to access the Department’s In-Term and VacSwim swimming and water safety programs by assisting in the provision of swim instructors to run programs in these communities. We’ve also continued to work hard in building and supporting our network of Endorsed Swim Schools who deliver our Swim and Survive program right across Western Australia.

This analysis of drowning statistics, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, comes at a time when the United Nations has passed its first ever Resolution on Global Drowning Prevention, calling on all nations to collect and analyse drowning data, and to co-ordinate and develop water safety plans. Joint lead author, Dr Amy Peden, Lecturer, School of Population Health, UNSW Sydney said Australia is a world-leader in drowning prevention. “Australia is leading the way through its cohesive approach to drowning prevention, with the sector collaborating under the Australian Water Safety Strategy, to push for the same outcome, to save lives and see a nation free from drowning,” Dr Peden said.

“While it is pleasing to see strong reductions in river drowning deaths, a 34% reduction against the baseline, rivers and creeks remain the leading location for unintentional fatal drowning in Australia. It is vital that we all respect the river and continue to invest in community-led interventions addressing river drowning risk.”

The research was undertaken to identify areas the new Australian Water Safety Strategy needed to focus on to bring the toll down even further. “This study has signposted several areas of focus, including a need to refocus drowning prevention efforts among older people in light of an ageing population,” Mr Scarr said. “We hope that drowning rates continue to reduce with future Australian Water Safety Strategies.”