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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

Environmental determinants

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

Adult supervision

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

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

Effective Interventions

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

Drowning Injuries in WA Factsheet


Drowning Toolkit


#Know Drowning

Other Resources

Australian Water Safety Council, Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030

Royal Life Saving Society Australia, 2021 National Drowning Report

Royal Perth Hospital, Admissions with spinal injuries from water-related activities report 2010 to 2019

Royal Perth Hospital, Admissions from water-related activities report 2010 to 2019

WA Department of Health, Injury Prevention in Western Australia: A Review of Statewide Activity for Selected Injury Areas

WHO, Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer

WHO, Preventing drowning: an implementation guide


  1. World Health Organisation. Violence and Injury Prevention; Drowning. World Health Organisation (2019).
  2. 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.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Western Australia, People. (2016).
  4. Department of Health, Western Australia, Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate. Injury prevention in Western Australia: A review of statewide activity. (2015).
  5. Royal Life Saving Society Australia. National Drowning Report 2020. (2020).
  6. Royal Life Saving WA. Programs. (2020).
  7. Department of Commerce Building Commission. Rules for pools and spas. (2016).
  8. Surf Life Saving Australia. Lifesaving Services. (2021).

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