Drowning prevention in the Pilbara

26 April 2016

Staff from Royal Life Saving Society WA recently visited the Pilbara to promote water safety and drowning prevention messages to parents, children and young people. The week-long visit took in Karratha, Roebourne, Wickham, Tom Price, Paraburdoo and Port Hedland, promoting the messages of the Keep Watch and Don’t Drink Grog and Drown programs.

These programs are targeted at two populations at high risk of drowning – children aged 0 – 4 years and young people aged 15 – 24 years.

Drowning is the leading cause of injury and death in the under-five age group. Rachel Murray, Royal Life Saving’s Keep Watch Coordinator says “On average four toddlers drown each year in WA and parents are urged to keep close watch of children around all types of water to prevent toddler drowning. Our presentations in the Pilbara also educated parents and carers about other strategies to keep their children safe around water, including the use of appropriate barriers and learning CPR to respond if something goes wrong.”

Nine presentations, covering toddler drowning risks and prevention messages, were delivered to parents and community health professionals across the region. Five childcare centres also hosted interactive water safety presentations for children aged 2-4 years. Parents who attended the sessions were particularly interested in the demonstration of child CPR for drowning, as access to first aid courses is limited in the region.

Don’t Drink Grog and Drown is a Pilbara-based initiative, created to address high drowning rates and alcohol consumption among young people in the region. Seven high schools and youth centres hosted alcohol and water safety sessions, which included interactive games aimed at educating young people about the risk of mixing drinking and swimming.

On average four young people will lose their life to drowning and a further 10 will be hospitalised following a non-fatal drowning each year in WA, many of whom will have devastating ongoing injuries. Overall alcohol contributes to 30% of these incidents.

Joe Down, Royal Life Saving’s Don’t Drink and Drown Coordinator, says “too many young people are still taking unnecessary risks by drinking alcohol while in, on or around the water, placing themselves and their friends at a much greater risk of drowning. These risks are heightened in areas like the Pilbara, which are home to kilometres of coastline and inland waterways that can often be isolated and unpredictable.”

“The benefits of visiting the Pilbara extend beyond this week of presentations. We have had great interest in our resources and programs from schools and community services which helps to ensure that water safety stays on the agenda all year round” says Rachel Murray.

The Keep Watch and Don’t Drink Grog and Drown programs in the Pilbara are supported by Royal Life Saving Society WA’s Principal Community Partner BHP Billiton and the Department of Health WA.