Public Health Association of Australia
Today, millions of Australians are hitting the road to take a well-earned break for Easter, and in many states for the start of the autumn school holidays.
While the greatest dangers at this time of year are on our roads, with the forecast return of summer-like weather in most states, after what was a pretty ordinary summer, it’s important to think of the risks associated with water, especially as so many of us will be looking for one last dip before the cooler weather arrives.
The dangers are no doubt heightened in areas impacted by the recent floods, where there is still so much debris and hidden dangers lurking below the murky surface of local rivers, lakes and creeks.
At our recent Global Injury Prevention Showcase Dr Amy Peden from James Cook University outlined the very real dangers water poses, especially for younger Australians, aged 0-19 years.
Amy discussed the findings of a study over a 10-year period (2005-2014) using data collected by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia for the Australian National Fatal Drowning Database. The study also reviewed drowning statistics in Canada and New Zealand.
The study found 1,454 children and adolescents drowned across the study period in the three countries; 74% were male and 40% were in the 0-4 year age group.
The most common place for these tragic drownings was evenly spread between pools (25%), lakes/ponds (25%) and rivers (24%).
For Australia, the findings were mixed. There was a significant overall reduction in child and adolescent drownings (37%) for the study period, with the greatest fall in the 0-4 year age group. However, the numbers weren’t so good for adolescents aged 10-19 years, driven by an increase in the number of female drownings in the 10-14 age category which rose by 196% over the decade study period.
Other studies have examined the circumstances which caused the distractions and consequent lapses in supervision leading to the deaths. In almost all cases, it’s an unsupervised child who has drowned, either during a short or longer lapse in concentration.
The most common causes of breaks in supervision included: indoor household duties (27.6%), outdoor household duties (12.6%), talking or socialising (11.9%) and miscommunication between caregivers (7%).
According to Royal Life Saving Australia’s 2019 National Drowning Report, 19 children under five died from drowning in 2018-19. The 10-year national average for this age group is 27 unintentional drowning deaths a year.
Dr Amy Peden told the Showcase the findings of these studies were important to inform future prevention methods. She said investment in prevention in Australia was a big factor in the improved drowning statistics for under-fives. This included parental education, pool fencing and greater knowledge of CPR.
She said even greater research and investment was needed into innovative preventive strategies to continue the downward trend in drownings for young Australians.
We encourage everyone to enjoy their Easter break. Be patient and stay safe on the roads, and be ever-alert to the dangers around water. Let’s do all we can to avoid any unnecessary tragedies over this holiday period.
The Global Injury Prevention Showcase was hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia and supported by the Australasian Injury Prevention Network and the World Health Organization. The event was held in the lead-up to the 14th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion in 2022.