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Release of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017

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12/09/2017

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 Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 was launched by the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Minister for Sport at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 12th September.

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.

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.

“Australians love the water. It’s an important part of our culture. That’s why the Turnbull Government provides significant funding for water safety education. The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report reveals the sad fact that 291 people drowned last year. This is asobering 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,” said the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Minister for Sport.

Drowning in children under five increased last year. Tragically 29 children aged 0-4 years drowned in 2016/17, a 32% increase on the previous year, serving as a sobering reminder to parents and pool owners of the need to constantly Keep Watch around water.

“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 Justin Scarr, Royal Life Saving CEO.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows that Australian’s under estimate the dangers of the nation’s waterways, with drowning deaths occurring in inland waterways, along the coast and in swimming pools. Rivers were the leading location for fatal drowning with 68 drowning deaths, followed by beaches (50 deaths), ocean / harbour locations (46 deaths) and swimming pools (44 deaths).

Reducing drowning in adults 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 Saving highlights the importance of safe aquatic behaviors including lifejacket use, reducing alcohol and drug consumption, checking weather forecasts and never swimming or boating alone.

In a result that will surprise many, 36 people 75 years and over died in drowning incidents last year, a 38% increase on the ten year average. “Royal Life Saving highlights the need for all senior Australians to be aware of the increased drowning risk associated with pre-existing medical conditions, the impacts of medications and the dangers of swimming alone,” says Justin Scarr, CEO, Royal Life Saving.

The report found there were 12 drowning deaths in children aged 5-14 years. Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving says “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 State and Territory Governments, local councils, schools and parents all play their part.”

Drowning peaks during the summer months. “Last summer was shocking, with drowning deaths in New South Wales four times higher than the average between Christmas and New Year. Analysis highlights the risks of swimming in unpatrolled locations, risk taking by young men, and the need for water safety awareness among high risk populations” says Justin Scarr CEO, Royal Life Saving.

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. Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving says “Reducing drowning in these high risk populations requires an integrated approach, working with universities, local tour operators, national parks and lifeguard services.”

Pre-existing medical conditions were found in 47 people. “A drowning risk assessment must be part of regular medical check-ups for adults aged 45 years and over, whether or not they are regular water users. Swimming is a great way to stay fit and healthy, but Australians must be encouraged to choose safer places such as public aquatic facilities or patrolled beaches where lifeguards are present“ says Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving.

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 Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving.

For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 please click here.

A range of spokespeople are available to speak to this release including Justin Scarr, CEO and Amy Peden, National Manager Research and Policy (author of the report) from Royal Life Saving Society - Australia.

Media enquiries to Media Key on 03 9769 6488

Key drowning facts

  • 291 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017
  • This is a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths recorded in 2015/16
  • 74% of all drowning deaths were male
  • 29 (10%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years
  • 12 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years
  • 43 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 25-34 years
  • 70 (24%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 65 years and over
  • 68 (23%) drowning deaths occurred at rivers, creeks and streams
  • 50 (17%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches
  • 46 (16%) drowning deaths occurred in ocean / harbour locations
  • 73 (25%) people were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning
  • 46 (16%) people drowned as a result of a fall into water
  • 37 (13%) people were boating immediately prior to drowning

State and Territory breakdown

  • 93 (32%) drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales
  • 73 (25%) drowning deaths occurred in Queensland
  • 45 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in Victoria
  • 42 (14%) drowning deaths occurred in Western Australia
  • 15 (5%) drowning deaths occurred in South Australia
  • 11 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in Tasmania
  • 8 (3%) drowning deaths occurred in Northern Territory
  • 4 (1%) drowning deaths occurred in Australian Capital Territory

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