Definition of Drowning
Drowning is the experience of respiratory impairment or suffocation, due to submersion in some form of liquid.1
The term “drowning” is sometimes used to describe events that did not result in death.1
Impact of Drowning in WA
Who does it impact
In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2
- 5,729 hospitalisations due to drowning.
- 60.1% of hospitalisations for drowning were males.
- people aged 65+ had the highest incidence of drowning.
In Western Australia Aboriginal peoples make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015 6.9% of drowning hospitalisations were Aboriginal people.2,3
Where does it occur?
In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019, the regions with the greatest difference in hospitalisation rate compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (98% higher), Great Southern (41%) and Goldfields (25% higher).2
Impact on health system
In Western Australia in 2019, there were 644 hospitalisations for drowning, consuming an estimated 4,717 bed days at an approximate cost of $7,686,559.2
Determinants of Drowning
Inadequate fencing and ineffective safety barriers to private swimming pools are a commonly reported factor in drowning in children.4 Additionally, lifejackets are an important piece of safety equipment on any recreational vessel and can increase an individual’s chance of survival by 50% if they end up in the water.5
Access to water safety programs and swimming ability
Lack of swimming ability is a key risk factor for drowning.5
Active adult supervision is important to reducing the number of drowning deaths in children. It is vital that all the supervisors attention is on the children all of the time that they are in, on or around water, they are within arm’s reach and are ready to enter the water in case of an emergency.5
Alcohol use can reduce the consumers coordination, affect their judgement, impair their reaction time and increase their risk-taking behaviours, making consumption a key determinant for drowning.5
Water safety campaigns
Education is a vital strategy to raising awareness of key safety behaviours to preventing drowning.4
Western Australian Example: Royal Life Saving WA deliver a number of programs aiming to increase awareness of how to prevent drowning-related incidents, including; Keep Watch, Don’t Drink and Drown, Make The Right Call and Respect the River.6
Pool fencing legislation
The installation, maintenance and use of fencing to remove children’s access to pools is an effective strategy to reducing the incidence of toddler drowning deaths and hospitalisations.
Western Australian Example: Current legislation in Western Australia states that all private swimming pools that contain water than is more than 300mm deep must have a compliant barrier installed that restricts access by young people to the pool and its immediate surrounds.7
Effective lifeguard patrolling at beaches and popular swimming locations is essential for preventing drowning.4
Western Australian Example: Some community organisations, such as Surf Life Saving WA, provide surveillance, protection, medical assistance and rescue services at all patrolled beaches in Western Australia.8
Organisations and programs in Western Australia
Injury Matters Drowning Resources
- World Health Organisation. Violence and Injury Prevention; Drowning. World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/other_injury/drowning/en/ (2019).
- Data generated using HealthTracks Reporting, by the Epidemiology Branch, WA Department of Health in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI), March 2021.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. Western Australia, People. www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/5?opendocument (2016).
- Department of Health, Western Australia, Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate. Injury prevention in Western Australia: A review of statewide activity. (2015).
- Royal Life Saving Society Australia. National Drowning Report 2020. https://www.royallifesaving.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/33178/RLS_NationalDrowningReport2020LR-FINAL.pdf (2020).
- Royal Life Saving WA. Programs. https://royallifesavingwa.com.au/programs (2020).
- Department of Commerce Building Commission. Rules for pools and spas. (2016).
- Surf Life Saving Australia. Lifesaving Services. https://www.mybeach.com.au/safety-rescue-services/lifesaving-services/ (2021).