Media release

Drowning is still a big killer in Australia – more research needed

Two hundred and ninety people on average die from drowning in Australia each year, according to the results of research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr Richard Franklin, Manager of Research and Health Promotion at the Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, and his co-authors conducted an audit of all unintentional drowning deaths in Australia from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2007.

Their study showed that children aged under five years still had the highest rate of drowning (2.63 per 100,000 people), although, significantly, the proportion of total drowning deaths accounted for by this age group decreased from 22 per cent in 1992-97 to 12 per cent in 2002-07.

Dr Franklin said that, although the data showed that people aged 55 years or older represented 29 per cent of all drowning deaths, the issue of drowning in this age group had received little attention. Little was also known about drowning in rivers, he said, despite the finding that 20.3 per cent of all drowning deaths occurred in rivers, more than at beaches (18.3 per cent) or in swimming pools (13.3 per cent).

“Although much work has been undertaken in Australia to make public swimming pools and beaches safer, little is known about drowning deaths or effective prevention strategies in rivers,” Dr Franklin said.

“Geographical disbursement, weather factors and the diversity of activities undertaken before drowning make further research into river drowning deaths imperative.”

The study also found that annual drowning deaths declined over the five-year study period, from 318 in 2002-03 to 257 in 2006-07.

“The Australian Water Safety Strategy 2008–2011 aim of reducing the number of drowning deaths by 50 per cent by 2020 … may be achievable if reduction continues at the same rate seen in this study.

“However, in some scenarios, such as drowning deaths in rivers, people from overseas and older people, further research and new initiatives will be required,” Dr Franklin said.

“Our experience of successful injury prevention indicates that reductions are best achieved through specific targeted interventions using the four-portal approach to aquatic incidents of education, improved design (eg, of environments, safety barriers and safety equipment), legislation, and rescue–resuscitation.”

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

The statements or opinions that are expressed in the MJA reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA unless that is so stated.


Dr Richard Franklin, National Manager Research and Health Promotion, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia
02 8217 3128 or 0412 757 356
Justin Scarr, Chief Operating Officer, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia
02 8217 3112 or 0408 434 011

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