About

The latest drowning figures are "incredibly disappointing" and make "bleak reading" says the CEO of Royal Life Saving Rob Bradley.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 reveals 284 people drowned in Australian waterways between July 1 2011 and June 30 2012. This is a reduction of just 1% (3 drowning deaths) on the 5 year average.

Rob Bradley said, "It's as if much of the education and awareness has simply fallen on deaf ears. Overall there has been absolutely no improvement in drowning in most age groups for 5 years now. In some age groups the drowning toll is still rising. Public awareness of the dangers of water still appears to be very low. The number of drowning deaths in inland waterways is up 13% on the 5 year average. It's clear that more work needs to be done in reducing drowning in Australia."

Royal Life Saving says Australia's current systems to reduce drowning are failing us. They say hundreds of Australians are dying in preventable tragedies or being left with permanent disabilities from non-fatal drowning.

In launching the report Senator Kate Lundy, Minister for Sport said, "The facts and figures in the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 serve as a reminder that we need to look out for each other and make responsible decisions about our own personal safety in and around water."

People aged 55 and over is now the biggest single age bracket for drowning deaths. 97 people aged 55 plus drowned between July 1 2011 and June 30 2012 representing 34% of all drowning deaths. Royal Life Saving says it is vital people aged 55 plus get a medical check before participating in aquatic activities and update their water safety skills through a Grey Medallion course.

The number of males drowning continues at a phenomenal rate. 82% (232) of the drowning deaths were males and 18% (52) were females. The ratio of males drowning to females has increased on last year. Males are now drowning at 4.5 times the rate of females. Rob Bradley says 98 men aged 18-44 drowned last year and says it's highly likely many of the people in this age group missed out on an adequate water safety education during their younger years.

Bradley said, "We've already sadly warned about this. The reality is the feared explosion in drowning deaths in this age range now appears to be underway."

Rob Bradley says men clearly continue to put themselves at risk by frequently ignoring warnings and putting themselves in dangerous situations. He says greater awareness about water safety issues among men is desperately needed.

The highest number of drowning deaths occurred in inland waterways (104), accounting for 37% of the total number of drowning deaths.

Rob Bradley said, "There are just too few resources being devoted to stop drowning deaths in inland waterways. The overall drowning toll is unacceptable. We want to see the number of people drowning halved by the year 2020. With these sorts of figures it is hard to see that happening."

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 aims to dispel some misconceptions about drowning in Australia. Few realise that more drowning deaths occur in rivers and lakes than at the beach, 60% of drowning deaths occur outside of major cities, smaller states such as the Northern Territory and Tasmania experience a greater burden of drowning, and that parents can rely on the school system to teach their kids to swim, but this is no longer the case.

The number of children under 5 drowning in bathtubs has jumped by 75% on the 5 year average. A third of all deaths in this age group occurred in bathtubs or spa baths (7 deaths). Royal Life Saving says despite all the attention devoted to preventing children drowning in swimming pools, bathtubs seem to have slipped under the radar.

Swimming pools continue to account for the largest number of drowning deaths in children aged 0-4 years, with 8 (38%) drowning deaths in 2011/12.

Speaking about the 0-4 category, Rob Bradley said, "It's certainly positive to see that there's been a reduction in drowning deaths in this category from the five year average of 32 to 21 this year. We hope that trend continues. In this age group we are on track to achieve a 50% reduction by 2020 if parents and carers of young children remain vigilant and employ strategies such as active supervision. However the number of bathtub drowning deaths is alarming and more work is needed in this area."

Rob Bradley added, "The decline in drowning deaths of children aged under five over the past 4 years can be partially attributed to increased parental awareness of the importance of child supervision, restricting a child's access to water, the role of water awareness and learning CPR. However, backyard swimming pools have been the real focus of recent prevention efforts."

The increase in drowning deaths in people aged 15-24 years is concerning, with 45 people losing their lives in 2011/12. This is an increase of 25% on the five year average. Inland waterways again have the highest number of drowning deaths within this age group and males account for 82% of these cases.

Increased drowning in people aged 15-24 years is an area of grave concern, prompting the Australian Water Safety Council to prioritise programs to increase swimming and lifesaving skills in Australian youth, as well as calling for a focus on preventing risk taking behaviours including the consumption of alcohol whilst boating, fishing and swimming.

Drowning continues at elevated levels throughout adulthood, pointing to the importance of building swimming and water safety skills during the primary and secondary school years to protect children and adults against drowning in later years. "Royal Life Saving will continue to call for compulsory swimming and water safety education in the Australian school curriculum, as the Australian tradition of learning these lifesaving skills at school is under threat and we all know how important they are in preventing drowning." Bradley said.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 will be officially launched by Senator The Honourable Kate Lundy Minister for Sport; Minister for Multicultural Affairs; Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation at 10:30am on Thursday September 20th, at Parliament House in Canberra. UNCLE TOBYS Ambassadors Cate Campbell and Matt Cowdrey and a representative of key partner PoolWerx will also be in attendance.